‘Corpse Bride’ Is An Underrated Tim Burton Classic Filled With Creepy Charm And Dark Moments

Of all Tim Burton's films, 2005's Corpse Bride is one of the most Burton-esque. As his fans may know, that means the movie is filled with gothic imagery, odd-looking characters, vibrant colors contrasting with dreariness, and most of all, a whimsical look at dark subjects. Even the basic plot screams Burton: A timid young man accidentally marries a corpse and travels between the worlds of the living and deceased to find himself. Because Corpse Bride was animated using mainly stop-motion technology, Burton was able to play around with the visuals in whatever way he wanted. This allowed his unique imagination to create one of his most underrated movies.

In 1993, Walt Disney (through Touchstone Pictures) produced The Nightmare Before Christmas, based on Burton's poem of the same name, as well as his character designs. The film became a beloved classic, and its stop-motion animation designs became a standard of pop and goth culture. Although the movie had his name and look, Burton wasn't the director.

In making Corpse Bride years later, Burton finally had creative control, and his personal stamp is obvious. Even themes he began developing in dark-yet-playful movies like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice are explored further here, and Burton's embrace of the weird, eccentric, and odd is on full display. Although Corpse Bride was made for kids and contains plenty of jokes and slapstick humor, it also features some pretty disturbing imagery. From severed heads to deceased dogs, the movie is definitely one of Burton's most bizarre, yet in many ways, one of his best.

Photo: Warner Bros.

  • The Character Designs Are The Most Tim Burton-y Possible

    Most of Burton's movies, especially his early work, all have a very distinguishable style. With lots of twisted, gothic imagery, Corpse Bride is no exception. The movie's character designs are also some of Burton's most extreme. From a very tall and sharply angled priest to the matching inverted shapes that make up the heads of Victor's parents to the contrasting thin and rotund bodies that belong to Victoria's parents, no character aside from Victor, Victoria, and Emily have bodies that resemble those of normal humans.

    Some of Burton's designs go so far as to add to their role in the film, such as the town crier whose silhouette is bell-shaped. Burton even foreshadows the true character of Barkis Bittern by giving him overly long, tail-like coat tails and a hairstyle that resembles two horns.

  • The World Of The Living Is A Dreary, Colorless Nightmare

    Corpse Bride opens in a fictional Victorian-era town containing plenty of towering gothic buildings and an old stone bridge. It's also surrounded by a spooky, dense forest which contains a graveyard. Both the setting and its inhabitants are almost completely monotone shades of gray, cluing viewers in that this is a boring, oppressive place.

    Victor and Victoria's parents sing about planning a wedding, normally a happy event, and as it becomes clear that they're both only following through due to the promise of inherited money, their environment makes sense. When Victor enters the underworld and finally finds the ability to stand up for himself, it's partly due to the more vibrant and freeing world of the afterlife. This contrast between the "boring" normal world and the more exciting world of the outcasts is one of Burton's most favorite themes, and with the ability to create an entire world from scratch thanks to animation, Corpse Bride's visuals help make his point obvious.

  • The Afterlife Is A Vibrant, Hopping Jazz Club

    After Victor accidentally proposes to Emily and she kisses him, he passes out and awakes in the afterlife. In stark contrast to the bland, gray world he leaves behind, the world of the departed is colorful and exciting. Victor's first experience in this new place takes place in a jazz club complete with strange and obviously deceased characters dressed in bright, vibrant colors playing peppy music. Although the idea of the afterlife as one big party is rooted in the beliefs of several cultures, and other animated films like Coco and The Book of Life depict the world of spirits in this way, the afterlife world of Corpse Bride is very Tim Burton.

    In all his films, the people considered "normal" by society's standards always become the weirdos and the eccentric underdogs the heroes. Because of this, the mustached skeletons and fatally harmed corpses dancing and singing in his version of the underworld are one of the most visually Burton-esque movies he's ever created.

  • Believing He's Lost Victoria, Victor Agrees To Perish

    While a main character dying in a kids' movie is usually sad, in this children's movie, death is a happy alternative. 

    After witnessing Victoria marrying another man - albeit against her will - Victor believes he will achieve happiness from marrying Emily, the corpse bride. Unfortunately, because he's still alive, he'll have to perish to do so. For a brief moment, Emily thinks about tricking Victor into drinking the Wine of Ages, which is actually a poison. She has second thoughts, however, since she doesn't want to take advantage of Victor. To her surprise, Victor agrees to drink the stuff voluntarily and calls everyone in the afterlife together to plan their wedding. 

    A character finding solace in the afterlife rather than the world of the living is not a new idea for Burton; Beetlejuice's Lydia Deetze and Victor might have a lot in common.

  • No One Believes Victoria, And They Trap Her In Her Room Before Forcing Her To Marry Another Man

    After Victor manages to trick Emily into thinking he wants to visit his parents in the world of the living, he sneaks off to visit Victoria. Emily catches them and drags Victor back to the afterlife in the most frightening manner possible, complete with raging winds and lightning. Victoria tries to tell everyone why Victor disappeared, but her family believes her to be mentally unstable.

    After being locked in her room, Victoria scales a wall from her window and runs to the church in the rain, believing the priest might help. Although he acts as if he believes her, the priest drags Victoria back to her parents, who not only lock her in her room but board up the windows and then force her to marry a man she has no interest in. If this isn't trauma-inducing, what is?

  • Emily's Tragic Backstory Is Relayed Through An Upbeat Musical Number

    Advancing the plot through song is not a foreign concept to many children's movies. However, most songs in kids' movies tend to be about dreams and feelings, not explaining how a main character was slain.

    Fitting with the jazzy vibe of the underworld, a one-eyed skeleton sing-tells Victor this story in the most conflicting manner possible. Instead of a morose ballad or song expressing anger at Emily's assailant, Burton relays the backstory to the viewer through an upbeat dance number with skeletons as backup singers. Titled "Remains of the Day," the lyrics include lines:

    Die, die we all pass away, but don't wear a frown 'caus it's really okay. You might try and hide, and you might try and pray, but we all end up the remains of the day.

    The song tries to put a positive spin on death through cheery music, but hearing it in a kids' movie is still pretty creepy.