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Western Animation / Corpse Bride


Corpse Bride is a romantic comedy musical by Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, and a Spiritual Sequel to Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas (of which Burton was the producer). The film mixes German Expressionism elements, stop motion animation, gothic melodrama and macabre sense of humour, and is based on an old Yiddish folk tale.

Victor, the son of some wealthy fishmongers, is entering into an Arranged Marriage with Victoria, a beautiful young woman from a penniless aristocratic family. The couple find that they rather like each other, and everything is going swimmingly... Except for the tiny problem of Victor being too nervous to learn his wedding vows. He goes into the forest to practice them but, unintentionally, gives the speech (and engagement ring) to the vivacious and fun-loving Emily, who thinks they are now married.

Oh, did we mention Emily is dead?

Victor is dragged to the underworld, which ironically heavily contrasts with the drab surroundings of the living by being colourful and vibrant. At first he is desperate to get back home to Victoria, but is soon torn between the life he knew and his life in the underworld. Victor also finds himself drawn towards Emily, whose tragic death may be more entwined with the lives of Victoria and himself than he first thought.

The film has many little shout-outs and references to previous works by Tim Burton. Danny Elfman's character, Bonejangles, is a call-back to his time with Oingo Boingo.

This film provides examples of:

  • A Hell of a Time / Hell of a Heaven: All dead go to the same place, and how you're treated depends vastly on who you were and how you behaved in life. Victor is greeted warmly by the deceased souls, but Barkis isn't so much; they are greeted, however, with the same phrase...
    Mrs. Plum: New arrival!
  • Accidental Marriage: The entire plot, of course.
  • Arc Words: "According to plan." First spoken by both sets of parents when they are trying to make the wedding go perfectly. Later mentioned by Victor to highlight that things are spiraling out of control. The last time is on Crowning Moment of Awesome page.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Subverted with Victoria, who's actually quite sweet. Zigzagged by her parents, who are selfish and rude but seem just like bog-standard Victorian aristocrats. Lord Barkis takes this trope to nasty Extremes.
  • Arranged Marriage: Victor and Victoria, obviously.
    • Perfectly Arranged Marriage upon meeting, they find that they get along very well. At the very least, it seems that they care for each other.
  • Better Than It Sounds: Guy getting married to a dead person accidentally? Sounds squicky but really isn't.
  • Betty and Veronica: Okay people, I have the script! Victoria, you will play the part of the sweet and gentle Betty. The part of the lively and happy-go-lucky (but secretly troubled) Veronica goes to Emily!
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The dead are a surprisingly friendly, fun-loving bunch, certainly more pleasant than most of the living... But you don't want to get on their bad side.
  • Big Bad: Lord Barkis Bittern
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: The Napoleon-like guy and his buddy.
  • Big Little Man: Finis Everglot is first shown talking face-to-face with his wife. Then the camera pans out and it turns out he is standing on a stool and really half her height.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Emily decides to let Victor return to Victoria so that they can have the life she never had. She then dissolves into hundreds of butterflies, having finally achieved freedom and peace in death.
  • The Bluebeard: Barkis tricked Emily into taking her family's jewels and gold and eloping with him, then killed her and ran off with the loot. He has similar plans for Victoria, but doesn't do any background research on their wealth.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and closes on butterflies.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Victor meets a dead girl, and ends up accidentally married to her.
  • Bouquet Toss: Before leaving Emily throws her bouquet, which is caught by an elderly woman. The elderly woman then tosses it again from being startled by maggot on her shoulder, whereupon it is caught by Victoria.
  • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: Victoria's parents do not care at all for their daughter's happiness and are using her for their own benefits.
  • Broken Aesop: A number of fans of the film have commented that the "Don't run away from your problems" message rings rather hollow since, by all appearances, the world of the dead is legitimately better off than the world of the living. This may also be why Victor ends up with Victoria and not Emily in the end, since the latter scenario could be fairly easily interpreted as pro-suicide.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth
  • Circling Monologue: When Emily finally confronts her murderer.
  • The Conscience: The maggot living inside Emily's head is a sarcastic variation.
  • Cool Old Guy: Elder Gutknecht. He's The Smart Guy of the Underworld, facilitates Victor and Emily returning to the Land of the Living and later uncovers the loophole in her marriage vows (as well as the unfortunate way to correct the loophole).
  • Cool Old Lady: Victoria's maid is implied to be a Parental Substitute as she does seem to want Victoria to be happy, and Victoria seems more likely to confide in her.
  • Covers Always Lie: Very minor example (to the point that it seems more like a mistake than anything), but the orientation of Emily's rotting features as seen in the movie (her left arm, her right leg, the small opening on her left cheek, etc.) are reversed on the cover art (her right arm is now the skeletal one, the opening is on her right cheek, etc.).
  • Creepy Crows
  • Curse That Cures: While being dead isn't exactly a picnic what with the gradual decomposition the dead suffer, it has its upsides. For one thing, you can't feel pain anymore; for another, any illnesses you had to deal with in life are now gone, seemingly. Mayhew, who died of a coughing-related illness (probably lung cancer or lung fibrosis, judging from his near-constant pipe-smoking), actually was fairly happy at the turnaround.
    Victor: Mayhew! How nice to see... [notices he's dead] I'm so sorry.
    Mayhew: Oh, yeah. Actually, though, I feel great.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: In this film the living are far scarier than the dead, and much less colorful for that matter.
  • The Dead Can Dance
  • Dead to Begin With: Emily.
  • Death by Origin Story: Emily, again.
  • Death Glare: Emily after finding Victor with Victoria. And she is dead.
  • Defanged Horrors: Cute skeleton children abound, and even the skeleton dog.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The world of the living is almost entirely black and white, whereas the underworld is brightly-lit and colourful.
  • Dem Bones: A whole bunch o' dem.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Barkis.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Only in this case, Emily did not get the boy.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The musical segment of "Remains of the Day."
  • Does He Have a Dead Brother?: Miss Plum, the cook, wonders this when Victor first turns up in the Land of the Dead.
  • Duet Bonding: Victor and Emily, after he accidentally upsets her.
  • Dull Surprise: The recently-deceased Mayhew is rather calm about suddenly running into his employers' disappeared son in the land of the dead.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Victor van Dort is the king of this, thanks to the colour palette of the Land of the Living (and even then, he's paler than most of the other breathers).
  • Elopement: This was Emily's plan with Lord Barkis because her father disapproved.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the opening, the temperaments of Victor and Lord Barkis are displayed by how they react to a butterfly:
    • Victor draws a sketch of the butterfly he captured, then releases it, completely unharmed, as he watches in awe. This shows that he is gentle, bookish fellow.
    • Barkis scowls and tries to shoo the pest away. If you didnít see it already, he's not a good person.
  • Evil Is Petty: Having failed to acquire Victoria's non-existant family fortune, Lord Barkis clings to the fact that she's his wife, determined not to leave empty-handed.
  • Expy: Victor looks like the grown-up version of Vincent, the child protagonist of one of Burton's earliest stop-motion works.
    Mr. Everglot: We shall continue as planned, with or without Vincent.
    Mrs. Everglot: Victor.
    Mr. Everglot: Whatever.
  • Exact Words: The would-be marriage of Victor and Emily doesn't count because the marriage vows were never binding. 'Until death do us part', indeed...
  • Eyepatch of Power: One of the skeletons in the Underworld has one.
  • Eye Pop: Emily's right eye has a tendency to pop out of its socket. Mostly because her maggot companion pushes it out, though in one instance it comes out by itself when she's crying.
  • Fairy Tale: Based of a Jewish-Russian folktale originally, about a woman murdered on the way to her wedding. Emily's backstory also bears tragic resemblances to the English folktale Mr. Fox (not to be confused with a later stop-motion animated film).
  • Fat and Skinny: Victor's parents. Mr. Van Dort is skinny enough to look like a stick, while Mrs. Van Dort is somewhat portly, at least on her face. Some of her figue can be explained as her dress.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Barkis, after unwittingly drinking poison, is now one of the dead, which conveniently removes the restriction that the dead cannot harm the living. An angry mob drags him off as he screams. Made worse in that we never really do find out what they do to him.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Barkis attempts to make himself presentable and tries to put on a charmingly polite demeanor in order to wed Victoria. Even so, it's clear to viewers that his intentions are no good.
  • Feel No Pain: The dead can no longer feel any physical pain due to being, well... Dead. It's even referenced by Emily in her song "Tears to Shed."
  • Fly in the Soup: At one point in the movie the dead go to the land of the living and crash a celebratory dinner. Lord Everglot says "there's an eye in me soup" and lifts it with his spoon just before everyone freaks out at the undead corpses that just appeared around everyone at the dinner table.
  • Forceful Kiss: Emily appears to give one to Victor on the bridge after uttering "You may kiss the bride."
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Victor's mother gets caught in the door of the carriage, and Mayhew and Victor's dad tries to push her in. Cut to the Everglots watching the carriage rocking wildly back and forth. "Fish merchants!" Also see Parental Bonus, and doubles as a William Shakespeare reference: 'Fishmonger' used to mean 'pimp.'
    • When Victor is practicing his vows in the forest, he says: "I shall cup your..." while his hands are in the vicinity of his chest. He immediately realizes what he's doing with a: "Oh goodness, no!"
  • Gold Digger: Several examples.
    • Lord Barkis Bittern. Hey, a male one! Good for him.
    • In different ways, for both sets of parents, this is the reason they are arranging Victor and Victoria's marriage. The Everglots are after the Van Dorts' money since they have none of their own, while the Van Dorts see the marriage as their ticket to the high society that currently shuns them for earning, rather than inheriting, their wealth. This is treated as normal, standard practise even — then again, it was.
  • The Grotesque: In some ways. Emily is nothing but skin and bones. She also has an eye that pops out and a worm living in her skull. Eww. But she remains ever gentle and kind.
  • He's Not My Boyfriend: "He's my husband."
  • Head Desk: Upon finding out from Emily that he recited his wedding vows perfectly, Victor bangs his head on the bar counter while telling himself to wake up.
  • Hurricane of Puns: They're everywhere.
  • Impairment Shot: Used after Victor runs into a tree.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Victoria's family. To quote Lord Everglot in "According to Plan," they are "land-rich, bankrupt aristocracy without a penny to their name."
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Honestly? Do we have to say his name?
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Mayhew, due to his smoking habits. Ironically, the cough is cured by his death.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Who does Victor look like? Honestly.
    • Ironically, Victoria was based a bit on Helena Bonham-Carter (Emily's voice actress) physically, as the character designer wanted to make sure she looked interesting and pretty enough enough opposite the exotic Emily, so he gave her Bonham Carter's face shape (particularly her chin and forehead.) Burton originally wanted Bonham Carter to voice Victoria anyway, which might make this fact a relic of the straightforward use of the trope. Bonham Carter asked to play Emily instead, as she'd played Victoria-type characters in live action before when she was the character's age.
    • According to the "making of" book, Emily too was redesigned to look a bit more like Helena (specifically, they gave her more of Helena's forehead.)note 
    • Watch Danny Elfman sing "Remains of the Day" live and you'll understand where everything about Bonejangles comes from.
    • The town crier does bear quite a strong facial resemblance to Paul Whitehouse.
  • Ironic Echo: "New arrival..."
  • Irony: The world of the Living is colorless and dreary with no joy, while the Netherworld is fun, lively and vibrant.
  • I've Got an X and I'm Not Afraid to Use It: Victor pulls this at one point.
    Victor: I've got a... dwarf... and I'm not afraid to use him!
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: What lets Emily finally be free, as she puts it, is pushing Victor and Victoria towards each other.
  • I Would Say If I Could Say
  • Jaw Drop
  • Karmic Death: Barkis, after some Evil Gloating at the dead, who are unable to harm the living. On his way out, he casually takes a sip from a cup placed on the altar. Unfortunately for him, the cup contained the poison which Victor was supposed to drink during the marriage ceremony. He is instantly killed. See the Fate Worse Than Death section of this article for what happens next. May also qualify as Death by Irony.
  • Land Poor : The Everglots.
  • Large Ham: Pastor Gallswells. When voiced by Christopher Lee, what do you expect?
  • Losing Your Head: Paul the "Head Waiter."
  • Love Triangle: Victor must choose between Emily, his dead wife, and Victoria, his living intended fiancée. Which is harder than it probably sounds.
  • Marriage Before Romance: This is expected for Victor and Victoria. Although they build chemistry even just being betrothed.
  • Marry for Love: Victoria wants this to be the case in her marriage.
  • Meaningful Name: Emily means rival and Victoria means victorious.
  • Minor Insult Meltdown: Victor does this to Emily after she finds out about Victoria. "Why can't you understand that this is a mistake? I would never marry you!" Geez, Victor, couldn't you phrase that any more painfully?
  • The Musical
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Lord Barkis Bittern.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • The first trailer of the movie led us to believe that Victor got cold feet, left Victoria at the altar, and fled into the woods where he met Emily. In reality, he went into the woods because Gallswells told him not to come back until he had memorized his vows, which he recited in Emily's presence.
    • The trailer also portrayed the movie as having a sinister undertone when in reality, the only real villain of the film was Barkis.
    • The trailer also made the movie look scarier than it actually was.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Victor's parents have money and are extremely excited to get a chance to be part of the nobility. Victoria's parents are noble and are absolutely disgusted that marrying her off to the Nouveau Riche is the only way to get out of their perpetual poverty — they even acknowledge that the only thing that would be worse would be marrying someone else poor. However, once Victor and Victoria meet, they like each other for other reasons.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Most people think Maggot sounds like Peter Lorre.
  • No Indoor Voice: The town crier. Well, he does, but only uses it to forecast the weather.
  • No Name Given: Variation in Emily's case; her name is only spoken a grand total of three times in the film proper and it's easy to miss if one does not pay attention, especially for younger viewers. Heck, the credits list her as simply "Corpse Bride". Even in most of the production staff didn't refer to her by proper name.
  • Noodle People: Several people are matchstick-thin.
  • Nouveau Riche: Victor's parents, to the disgust of Victoria's parents, who describe them as "So common! / So coarse!"
  • Obviously Evil: Lord Barkis. And his chin. His evil, evil chin.
  • Of Corset Hurts: As Victoria is getting her corset drawn, her mother orders the maid to tighten it. "I can hear you speak without gasping."
  • Offscreen Teleportation: You cannot run Victor! Emily will find you! Not in a way that's physically possible but still.
  • Offstage Villainy: Emily's murder.
  • Old Retainer: The Everglot's maid, Hildegarde, for Victoria.
  • Parental Bonus: When Victor is in the woods, practicing his vows, he says a line to the effect of "With this hand, I will cup your...", with his hands placed near his chest area. Once he realizes what he's doing, he pulls his hands away in shock. "Oh goodness, no."
  • Perpetual Frowner: Nearly everyone in the land of the living. Most notable with the parents of the bride, especially when her mother orders her dad to smile, which takes great effort.
  • Prank Date: Emily's attempt to elope with Lord Barkis perfectly fits the "Malicious Trap" version of this trope.
  • Proper Lady: Victoria through and through.
  • Puddle-Covering Chivalry: Mayhew does this for Victor's mother during the opening scene.
  • Real Is Gray: The staid Victorian world of the living, in stark contrast to the land of the dead, which is ironically more colorful and, well, full of life.
  • The Reveal: Lord Barkis Bittern the killer. Buh buh BUUUUUHHHH!!!
    • Also an Unreveal — in "The Remains of the Day," when Bonejangles tells Emily's story in silhouette, his shadow briefly takes on Lord Barkis' appearance.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Victor and Lord Barkis, respectively, although the Everglots don't find out about Lord Barkis' poverty until after he marries Victoria. In an inversion of the usual approach to this trope, the rich suitor is the virtuous one (although he is of humble birth, while the poor suitor is an Impoverished Patrician).
  • Romantic False Lead: And we have a twofer. Emily is the likable variation, with Barkis being the nasty version.
  • Rummage Fail: She doesn't exactly rummage, but it's close enough when Mrs. Plum tries to grab a knife from the male cook's head for Victor to fight with but accidentally takes hold of a fork and tosses that to Victor.
    • Also when Victor attempts to arm himself, but the sword doesn't come free of the guy it's stuck through.
      "Stay back! I've got a... dwarf, and I'm not afraid to use him!"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Emil, the Everglots' valet, hands in his verbal resignation during the "dead walk the Earth" sequence.
    Finis Everglot: Fetch me musket!
    Emil: (at the front door in his hat and coat) Fetch your own musket! I'm off! (slams the door behind him)
  • Self-Made Man: William Van Dort, millionaire fish merchant.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Emily's murder, to make it more family friendly, but also to hide the identity of her killer.
  • Shotgun Wedding: In a way, Victor and Emily.
  • Shout-Out: The piano Victor sits at when meeting Victoria is brand-labeled a "Harryhausen", in homage to stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen.
    • There's even a line from Gone with the Wind used during an old man's skeleton and his still-living wife reuniting when the dead folk head upstairs for their wedding party.
    • Victoria's mother's character design is very reminiscent of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella. She's about as friendly as Tremaine is, too.
    • Victor and Victoria.
    • Aside from the You Shall Not Pass moment, during the wedding rehearsal for Victor and Victoria, Victor accidentally drops the ring, which rolls on the floor while Pastor Gallswells angrily yells about "DROPPING THE RING!". It's a rather blatant reference.
  • Skewed Priorities: Victoria's mother.
    Victoria: It's true, Mother! Victor is married to a dead woman! I saw her - a corpse! - standing right there with Victor!
    Lady Everglot: Victor was in your room!?
    • Though this may be more a case of simply not buying the rest of her story. She made it pretty clear moments later that she didn't.
    • When Victor accidentally sets fire to Lady Everglot's dress, his mother voices concern of it leaving a stain.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Victoria doesn't object to Victor's wedding to Emily; Emily herself stops it when she realizes that if she goes through with it, she will steal Victoria's dreams just as her own dreams were stolen.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Emily plays this trope against Victoria's Proper Lady counterpoint.
  • Spiritual Successor: Corpse Bride may as well call The Nightmare Before Christmas "Daddy."
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Victor and Victoria. Ultimately subverted.
  • Stealth Pun: The head waiter is a head who happens to be a waiter.
    • Not to mention that the joint where he works is called "The Ball and Socket."
    • At one point, Emily literally cries her eye out. (Just one, though.)
    • While looking for Victor, Emily passes a second-hand store that sells hands for people that lost the first one.
  • Tempting Fate: When Victor says his day couldn't get any worse following his messing up the wedding rehearsal, the town crier appears yelling about the incident to the town.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Poor Victoria just stares straight ahead in stunned silence during her wedding to Lord Barkis.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Both sets of parents, in different ways. William and Nell Van Dort are roughly the same height, but William is skinny while Nell is wide enough to have trouble fitting into the carriage. Finis and Maudeline Everglot appear to be the same height when we first see them watching the Van Dorts from their window, but Finis is revealed to be standing on a stepladder, and is only about half as tall as his wife.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: What Emily's former fiance (Lord Barkis) did to her which led her to become a corpse bride.
  • Title Drop: Repeatedly in the underworld. Victoria also tells the minister that Victor "has a corpse bride!"
  • Together in Death: That's how Emily wants it. And due to the nature of the phrase "'til death do us part", it's also the only way her "marriage" with Victor can be legit.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Delivered through song!
  • Truth in Television: This film was inspired by Burton learning of the despicable practice in Tsarist Russia of anti-Semitic gangs to lay in wait for Jewish brides on their way to weddings and murdering them en route.
  • Undeath Always Ends: Emily, once Barkis has died and Victor and Victoria are reunited, transforms into hundreds of butterflies as she leaves the church.
  • Undeathly Pallor: Everyone who's dead. The living are all mostly pale-skinned brunettes.
  • Unrequited Tragic Maiden: Emily. Her greatest wish was to find love after having been betrayed and killed on her wedding night by the man she thought really loved her, albeit Victor cannot reciprocate her emotions as he's already betrothed to and in love with Victoria. Eventually, she ascends to the afterlife unwed and leaves the young couple to enjoy a life together rather than forcing Victor to keep a promise that he never meant to make.
  • The Un-Smile: Lord Everglot, when his wife tells him, "Smile, darling, smile" as they meet the Van Dorts for the first time. His face audibly grinds into the unfamiliar expression as he puts on an awkward sideways smile.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Both Victor's and Victoria's parents, to varying degrees.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Weren't Victor's parents last seen on an out-of-control carriage after the death of their driver? What happened to them?
  • What You Are in the Dark: Emily has a chance to kill Victor without his knowledge, and stay married to him for eternity. As she has this conversation, she has no idea that Victor is right outside, hearing the whole thing. After a moment's consideration, she collapses in despair and says she could never do that to him.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: Mayhew when telling Victor about Victoria marrying Barkis. says, "I guess they didn't want to waste the cake."
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Victoria and Lord Barkis, letting her free again for Victor.
  • Woman Scorned: Victor, you really shouldn't have lied to Emily...
  • World of Pun: Just try to count them.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: A humorous and justified example; The town crier's reports consist of the events surrounding the Everglot-Van Dort wedding, to show the viewer how the Land of the Living really is THAT boring. Well, right up until he reports a swarm of the undead.
  • Xylophones for Walking Bones: "Remains of the Day" is sung by a Skeletal Musician and heavily features xylophone music. There's even a part where some dancing skeletons play each others' ribcages!
  • You Shall Not Pass: Spoofed with extra points for having it said by Christopher Lee's character.
    • "Keep it down, we're in a church!"
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Subverted, as the living gradually recognize their lost loved ones among the shambling ranks of the dead.