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 Expressionist 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 wealthyfishmongers, 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.
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 spiralling out of control. The last time is on Crowning Moment Of Awesome page.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Subverted with Victoria, who's actually quite sweet. Played straight with her despicable parents, however. And don't even get us started on Lord Barkis.
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 secretlytroubled) 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 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.
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.
Curse That Cures: While being dead isn't exactly a picnic what with the gradual decomposition the dead suffer, it has its upsides. Mainly that any pains felt in life are completely gone. 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.
Cute Monster Girl: Emily can almost convince a guy to leave his fianceé even when she is rotting away. Not every corpse is that sexy.
Doing It for the Art: The various figures used in the film were animated using a very intricate clockwork system built inside of them, replacing the stop-motion industry standards of using multiple expressive heads.
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 color palette of the Land of the Living (and even then, he's paler than most of the other breathers).
Expy: Victor looks like the grown-up version of Vincent◊, the child protagonist of one of Burton's earliest stop-motion works.
Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Your girlfriend is going to marry someone else? No problem, just chug down a bottle of poison and you can live in the way-cooler land of the dead forever!
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).
Faux Affably Evil: Barkis attempts to make himself presentable and tries to put on a charmingly polite demeanor in order to wed Victoria. Even though it's clear to viewers that his intentions are no good.
Lord Barkis Bittern. Hey, a male one! Good for him.
In different ways, both sets of parents, 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.
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.
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).
It's worth mentioning that Victoria does resemble Emily Watson in that they both have big, expressive eyes.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Pass the Popcorn: General Bones-apart just knows that the tale of Emily's murder "is gonna be good."
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."
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Talking to Himself: Completely averted. Despite a good number of minor characters having the same voice actor, none of them speak to each other. For example, Mayhew and William Van Dort are both voiced by Paul Whitehouse and have some interaction together but never say a word to each other.
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.
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.
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.
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.