“There’s an eye in me soup”- Finnis Everglot
Before anybody scorns my decision to kick off this year’s Shocktober with an animated movie, consider this – there’s no possible way this film could have been made in any other way. Had it been live action, it most probably would never have been released due to its content. The censors would have seen to that. It’s also a film I enjoyed with my family back in 2005, when we were in Florida for Halloween and saw this in the impressively huge Universal movie theatre to kick off the day in style.
From the very start, it’s unmistakably a Tim Burton film, the credits for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, with Christopher Lee and Michael Gough also in the mix are a clear indicator. Add do that a Danny Elfman score and you don’t even need to see the director credit to know who’s in charge.
To be honest, I don’t exactly remember what the very first Tim Burton production I saw was. It was either Beetlejuice, or an old episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories titled Family Dog. I have a strong feeling it was the latter. It was an animated episode, about 20 minutes long, and what struck me the most about it was the unique style of Burton’s designs. I don’t think I knew at the time that he had been a Disney animator. (This is way before he directed Batman, of course).
That unique artist style, the unique skewed vision that was evident in that Amazing Stories is given full rein here - and had to possibly the same degree in A Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton would unleash the same nightmarish off kilter sensibilities in Frankenweenie.
So, we don’t know exactly where or when the story takes place. For sure, it’s a gloomy little village, surrounded by what appears to be a forest of dead trees. It could be somewhere in Victorian England, it could be somewhere in Eastern Europe – who knows?
There’s going to be a wedding. A society wedding. But seemingly, an arranged one. Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) is the son of socially ambitious, new monied parents, anxious to claw their way up the societal ladder. He is to be married to Victoria Everglot the daughter of penniless aristocrats – a loathsome couple, negligent of their daughter and of each other, caring only for their social standing.
On the day of the wedding rehearsal, actually the first time Victor and Victoria actually meet face to face (playing a piano, with the piano maker’s name plate reading Harryhausen, which I loved)
At the rehearsal, Victor completely blows his vows, the gruff impatience and intolerance of the pastor (Christopher Lee) being no small part of the problem. Victor runs away in embarrassment and starts reciting his vows in the dead forest, placing the wedding ring on the gnarled root of a collapsed tree.
As soon as he does so, out of the ground comes the animated corpse of a dead bride, Emily (Helena Bonham carter) in a tattered dress, who was brutally beaten to death on the night of her elopement by a mysterious assailant. The root was in reality her petrified, rotten finger and as the vow was uttered by Victor – she now considers them married and takes him away to the land of the dead, which curiously is more vibrantly colourful than the land of the living. As a wedding gift, she even reunited Victor with his beloved long dead pet dog.
Meanwhile, in the land of the living, word has spread that Victor was seen in the forest in the arms of another woman, while in the land of the dead, Victor is desperately coming up with a plan to escape back to his own realm despite the warm and cheery welcome extended to him by the denizens of the living impaired, especially Bonejangles the skeleton who can’t seem to keep his remaining eye in its socket.
Telling Emily he wants her to meet his parents, she arranges to have them both taken to the land of the living. Once there, he runs away, to Victoria and tells her he wants to get married immediately, but is seen in her arms by Emily, who, enraged, takes him back to the land of the dead.
When Victoria tells her parents what’s happening, they believe she’s insane and lock her in her room, while plotting a quick marriage to Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant) to both get her out of the way, and to restore their fortune and standing.
Victor and Emily reconcile, and decide to really get married – but to do so and for their marriage to be valid, it has to happen in the land of the living. Thereafter, Victor must take poison (yes, an animated movie condoning suicide) and join Emily in death.
The dead join the living as Victoria marries Bittern – but Emily recognises Bittern as the man who murdered her for her dowry. He and Victor duel to the death, as he mocks Emily for always being the bridesmaid but never the bride with a toast. The wine he drinks is the poison that Victor was supposed to take, thus he dies and is taken by the dead back to their land to answer for his crimes.
Victoria is now a widow and can marry Victor with Emily’s blessing as she has found peace at last.
And they all lived and remained dead happily ever after except for Bittern who, it was implied was torn apart by the dead – so I guess he rested in pieces.
All in all, a dark fairy tale indeed.
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