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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Movie #12: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)

"There's an eye in me soup."



Set in a 19th century European village, this stop-motion, animated feature follows the story of Victor, a young man who is whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious Corpse Bride, while his real bride, Victoria, waits bereft in the land of the living. Although life in the Land of the Dead proves to be a lot more colorful than his strict Victorian upbringing, Victor learns that there is nothing in this world, or the next, that can keep him away from his one true love.

Watch Out For

Common Sense Media:
Parents need to know that this movie includes multiple references to dead bodies, skeletons, decay, and death, though all in good fun. The corpse bride's eye pops out occasionally, to show the talking maggot who lives inside and offers romantic advice. The story concerns a young man and woman who meet for a marriage arranged by their parents, both families in need of money. The young man's betrothal to the corpse bride leads him to contemplate his own death, in order to fit in with her friends. Song and dance numbers feature skeletons, corpses, and ghosts. Both sets of parents are using their children to achieve money and status. And when the live bride-to-be asks the local pastor for help, the film raises questions concerning the effectiveness of organized religion.

Movie Mom:
Parents should know that this movie may be disurbing to young and sensitive viewers. It has some grotesque and scary images, including decomposing bodies and skeletons. Characters are in peril and some are injured or killed. There is some crude humor. Characters drink alcohol.

Parents Television Council:
Sexual content and offensive language is almost nonexistent, except for a play on "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" and an utterance of "sacrebleu." Violence becomes an issue at the end of the film when Lord Barkis Bittern attacks Victor in the church; however no one is hurt during this confrontation. Also, when Victor enters the Land of the Dead, there is a song about the Corpse Bride's life and death which is reenacted in shadows upon the wall. Nothing graphic is shown, however her death - murder - is explained. More questionable than these scenes, are the characters themselves. The Corpse Bride is exactly what the title says she is - a murdered woman buried in her wedding dress. Her injuries are not shown; however she is in a state of decomposition. The other citizens of the Land of the Dead are graphically portrayed as well: an army captain, with a hole in his chest the size of a cannon ball; Bonejangles, a skeleton with one eye that rolls from socket to socket; a cook with an eye hanging from a thread, and a vast array of other curiosities. And, though these characters are meant to be humorous they may make some viewers squeamish.

If your children aren't scared by dark images or death themes, they'll probably be ok with this movie, especially kids eight and up. As with Burton's, "The Nightmare Before Christmas," this movie is filled with such magic and enchantment, you almost forget that it's a dark tale about the afterlife.

Parent Previews:
Definitely not aimed at children or those with an aversion to gruesome postmortem characters, the film also includes the suggestion of suicide and the depiction of a murder victim. However, it also introduces a lively afterlife where spirits are still subject to emotions and heartache. At one point, when the living and the dead briefly meet, there is a happy reunion for many who have been separated by the death of loved ones. More importantly, as the timid Victor starts to act positively in behalf of someone else, he finds the real power of love isn't in money or appearances.

Still for many parents (who don't want to be up at night), the nightmarish images will be reason enough to decline an invitation to the bizarre wedding party of this Corpse Bride for anyone younger than a teen.

Screen It!:
Those scenes as well as the sight of the living dead (many of them still containing the weapons that killed them and all being in various states of decomposition all the way to skeletal -- but all are animated, most in a darkly humorous fashion) and some related scenes that are played as comical suspense might be disturbing or even downright scary to younger kids, but older ones likely won't have a similar reaction. Various characters smoke and/or drink, with most of the latter being done by the dead, with one skeletal character literally being falling down drunk.

Plugged In:
Corpse Bride is meant as a kid’s film. And that raises the question of whether kids should see it. Tim Burton thinks they should decide for themselves. He told Entertainment Weekly, "Adults forget that kids are … the best judge to know whether they can take something or not. It’s unusual to have an animated movie that deals with murder and death and dark themes. But we were always mindful of making sure kids will be able to watch it. We test-screened it with kids, and they loved it the way they love Halloween. It has a sense of safe darkness to it."

Indeed, while the setting is ghoulish and macabre, it’s true that it’s not overly gruesome or gory. And the corpses are garishly comical, not nasty and vile. But with respect to Mr. Burton, I remember a couple of scary movies I thought I was "ready for" as a kid that left me terrified in the nights that followed. No, parents are still better at deciding what entertainment their kids can handle. They’re the ones who have to deal with potential nightmares and tricky questions about the afterlife. They’re the ones who might decide to turn a viewing of Corpse Bride into a productive conversation about what really happens after death. Or, with equal reason (maybe more), decide to steer their kids completely clear of this land of dancing corpses.

Screencaps courtesy of newsie__nympho

Talk About It

Common Sense Media:
* Families can talk about the dilemma facing Victor, who comes to love both the corpse bride and his arranged bride and so must choose between them.
* How do Victor's and Victoria's parents pressure them to marry?
* How might Victor have handled the confusion he felt differently to avoid hurting Victoria's or the Corpse Bride's feelings?

Movie Mom:
Families who see this movie should talk about why Victor ran away and why Victoria was loyal to him. They may also want to talk about the appeal of ghost stories and their own thoughts on the supernatural.

Parent Previews:
How are parent/child relationships portrayed in this film? What deception do the parents practice? How does that affect their children?

How does this script portray the afterlife? How does the world of the dead compare with that of the living? Do you believe there is another world where happy reunions will occur?

What do Emily and Victor learn about sacrifice?

Death, arranged marriages, marrying for wealth, marrying for love, grief, the nouveau riche, music, propriety, necrophilia, chaos, romance, disappointment, broken hearts.

Of Note

  • The puppets were made from stainless steel armatures covered with silicone skin.
  • When Victor plays the piano, he leans back and the nameplate says "Harryhausen", a reference to stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen.
  • The maggot's voice, mannerisms and facial appearance are an impersonation of Peter Lorre.
  • Danny Elfman originally wrote the part of BoneJangles looking for another musician to sing it, but after failing to finding a voice that fit, Burton asked Elfman if he would sing it himself. Bonejangles was so brutal on his vocal chords, Danny Elfman was left hoarse whenever he had to voice the character.
  • The film was nominated in the 78th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, but was bested by Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
  • Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three stars out of four, praising the voice acting and animation, stating that it is not a "macabre horror story as the title suggests", and calling the film a "sweet and visually lovely tale of love lost".


"Corpse Bride" airs on October 24 as part of ABC Family's "13 Nights of Halloween" lineup


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