Tim Burton has a gift for surprise. His movies all have a depth that erupts from anything that usually wouldn’t make a movie worth watching, somehow emphasizing their value beyond logic. He is, in that respect, not unlike Mozart, whose work has that same flow of the pleasant paired with the eruptive force of genius.
We are in a fairy tale set in Victorian England. Our hero, Victor, is the heir of a fish monger’s fortune and is to be married off sight unseen to Victoria, heir to a delapidated aristocratic fortune. As the movie starts, the singing families are going to meet to introduce the two young heroes at the wedding rehearsal.
The rehearsal is a colossal flop, mainly because Victor really and unexpectedly likes Victoria, and fumbles the wedding vows. He runs off, and as soon as he gets to calm down, he repeats the vows and has them right. He slides his wedding band on a twig, sighs, and then the story begins.
Turns out the twig is the finger bone of a young lady who died waiting for her husband, who took all her money and left her to die. She then had no choice but to wait for a replacement, and decides that Victor’s vows are binding.
The two disappear in the underworld, a bonesy affair with odd characters, while Victoria is to be married off to a seemingly rich lord. Victors succeeds in coaxing his corpse bride, Emily, to return to the living once more, but as soon as she finds out about Victoria, she has her groom come back.
The rest of the story is predictable: Emily finds out that, for Victor’s vows to be binding, he has to be dead. He is heartbroken and decides that he might as well marry her. The underworld decides to come up and hold a wedding in the little chapel by the woods. Part of the wedding is a chalice filled with poison the groom is to drink.
Victoria gets to the party in her own wedding gown and interrupts. She is followed by the lord, who will drink of the chalice and die, after Emily realizes he is her husband-to-be that left her to die.
Emily will give up on Victor, who marries Victoria; once freed from her curse, she turns into butterflies in the moonlight, and the movie ends.
Now, for a critical note, it is astonishing how many different motifs Burton uses in this movie. Nobody seems to have noticed the odd names of the heroes, that harken back of the movie Victor, Victoria. We have the singing and dancing underworld, which is clearly borrowed from Beetlejuice. The story itself, it turns out, is an old Jewish scary tale.
So, the movie feels like a pastiche, good only for kids that have not seen any of the references quoted.