About a year ago, when I wrote about Edward Scissorhands, I said that director Tim Burton had made only four films that I enjoy, and that my favorite of them is Ed Wood. However, when I wrote that, I hadn’t seen Corpse Bride in so long that I’d forgotten that it isn’t just an enjoyable film, it’s completely wonderful. I saw it early in 2006, and a recent bad memory was wrapped too tightly around it for me to separate the art from my dumb life decisions. I even bought a doll of the beautiful Emily, but I’ve spent the last fifteen-plus years just remembering the movie from a safe distance. Yes, it’s a good film, but, you know, dumb decisions.
It takes a long time for me to exorcise ghosts, because I allow the damn things to get in everywhere.
So a few months ago, I decided it was time to upgrade as much of my film collection to Blu-ray as the studios will allow me, and purge a lot of movies I bought, watched once, and forgot about. I was happy to upgrade The Nightmare Before Christmas – not, we must remember, actually directed by Burton – and asked myself whether it wasn’t high time I brought Emily and Victor, and Victoria, I suppose, back into my life. And wasn’t it true that Halloween was coming up? And that I have a ten year-old boy who was certain to enjoy the macabre mayhem of this goofy and delightful movie?
Indeed, the ten year-old enjoyed this a hundred times more than he did Sleepy Hollow, with the caveat that he tuned out during the songs, which rank among the best that Danny Elfman has composed. That may be one reason why I’m even more in love with this movie than I originally was: as quick as I am to grumble about him, when Elfman is on fire and letting his freak flag fly, he writes wonders. The kid giggled and chuckled throughout, and occasionally shrieked with laughter. The loudest point might have come when one of Victoria’s distant ancestors shows up in front of his family portrait.
Our son also enjoyed chewing over the visual difference between the “all black and white and grey and pale blue” Land of the Living and the colorful Land of the Dead. There’s so much fun world building here between the two lands, along with the sad realization that Emily only has as much skin as she does because she’s only been in the Land of the Dead for a few short years. However, I have to say, as much as our son impresses us with figuring out where a story’s going to go next, he totally missed that Emily had been murdered by a mysterious figure played by Richard E. Grant, which I thought was about the most obvious possible plot development. But it does mean that Victor gets to duel with Grant’s villain while armed only with a fork, which probably got the second biggest laugh. Corpse Bride is a masterpiece, silly, tight, lovable, romantic and gruesome, and yes, it’s even better than Ed Wood.
One final observation: there’s an incredibly neat, albeit slightly frustrating bonus feature on the Blu-ray I got. It’s called The Voices Behind the Voice, and it features tiny little black-and-white screens – almost like old webcams! – of many of the cast reading their parts in sync with the animation, so we can see Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough and more doing their work, and it’s just delightful. As much as I like the visuals, I’d have happily sat down for seventy-seven minutes just watching the actors behind their microphones. There’s far too little of it, and the postage stamp screens aren’t big enough, but the little window is nevertheless completely charming. Pick up a copy and make sure it’s got this feature on it!