Tim Burton’s most recent venture, the animated Corpse Bride, is an experiment with macabre naivety. It’s not soulful, though, not in the way it should be. Rather than crushing children’s securities, indulging into the fascination of nightmares, Burton whittles away at the macabre like an unskilled woodcarver until all that’s left is a shapeless piece of wood, just a little smaller, a little easier to handle. More than anything, the story is smelling-salt of the Spielberg variety, where fantasies are crushed by the monstrosities of adulthood: law, order, and rational.
Necrophilia, as foreign as it sounds to children’s movies, is never quite so removed from its exoticness as in Corpse Bride: it is not so much avoided as it is ignored (not that a PG movie is the place to examine such practices). Which makes me wonder why Burton felt it necessary base his story on such an outlandishly fetishistic premise. Even the title, for chrissake, sounds like something in the backroom of sleazy, small-town video-stores.
By skirting the issues that were obviously the object of Burton and his cohorts’ desire, they don’t so much as simplify it (for younger audiences, no doubt) but dumb it down so much that it’s not a children’s film, rather than a film made with the mindset of a child. As its intended audience grows older, will they remember the fascination of its macabre tendencies with fondness? Most likely they will come to realize its absurdities, and move on to more fleshy films such as Rosemary’s Baby. Movies for kids don’t have to be so shallow, just remember the magic of films such as The Red Balloon – its wonder doesn’t float off like the balloon when one reaches adulthood. Burton’s just wasn’t thinking outside the sandbox.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.