Although he’s not quite his baby, The Nightmare Before Christmas is forever linked to him Tim Burtonand it’s one of the films most people think of when they mention the veteran director.

For years there was talk of Burton returning to stop motion. After all, it had been an early passion. In the tumultuous years since that film’s release, Burton’s star has shone a little less brightly, thanks to both fair (Planet of the Apes) and unfair (Attacks on Mars!) flops. However, Burton was still capable of creating beautiful and strange films like Big Fish and Sleepy Hollow, so it was time to make the long-awaited foray into stop-motion.

corpse bride, directed by Mike Johnson, is a quintessential Burton piece, even more natural than The Nightmare Before Christmas. Set in a 19th-century European village, it tells the story of Victor, a young man who is kidnapped into the underworld and married to a mysterious corpse bride, while his true bride, Victoria, waits, robbed, in the land of the living.

The characters and settings reflect the distinctive style seen in Burton’s previous drawings and animations. Victor in particular looks like a “Johnny Depp” in a Tim Burton film. It’s no surprise that he sounds like it too, since Depp has teamed up with Burton again. After “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” it was their second collaboration this year alone. It was the first time he appeared as a voice actor for a feature film. Depp and Burton made both films together, so Depp was Willy Wonka by day and Victor by night.

The cast is impressive and full of familiar voices. In addition to Depp, the squad also included Burton’s then-wife Helena Bonham-Carter, Christopher Lee, Richard E. Grant, Albert Finney, Emily Watson and Tracey Ullman. Lee had also worked with Burton on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his serious tones in the film added to the gothic atmosphere of the 19th century village.

Like clockwork

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Technology had advanced greatly since Nightmare and the models were much more complex. Their facial expressions were controlled by clockworks almost as careful as the old interchangeable heads. One crew member described having nightmares about his own face being controlled by clockwork after interacting with the mechanisms so much.

In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on Burton’s contribution to The Nightmare Before Christmas and the omission of Henry Selick from promotional materials. Burton was more receptive to the division of duties and recognition in Corpse Bride. He explained that the process was very different than Nightmare.

In an interview in 2005, Burton said: “The difference was that I completely designed it. In my opinion it was a very complete package. I felt like it was there. I felt more comfortable with it. So it was a little more organic. It was based on an old folk tale. We kept changing it, but you know, I had a great co-director in Mike Johnson. I feel like we complemented each other quite well. It was just a different film, a different process.”

The result was a beautiful, carefully crafted film that told a better story with a broader cast of strong characters than Nightmare. If it failed anywhere, it was against Nightmare’s strongest suit, the songs. Corpse Bride’s musical numbers were visually interesting, but nothing is as memorable as This Is Halloween or What’s This?

Still, “Corpse Bride” is different enough to escape the long shadow of Burton’s festive favorite. Its lush European gothic atmosphere and typical Burton quirks make it one of the purest distillations of the director’s vision at the time. This is surprising considering it was far more collaborative than previous work.

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