TORONTO — Like last year’s “The Incredibles,” the chicest movie of 2005 may be an animated one, “Corpse Bride.” Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion-animation odyssey is about a buttoned-up bourgeois young man (voiced by Johnny Depp) who, after nearly ruining an arranged marriage to a high society but destitute woman (Emily Watson), finds himself accidentally engaged to a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter). The overtones are Gothic, the collars are high and the mood is gloomy. In short, it’s all very Marc Jacobs.
“I’ve always loved that look. I’ve been into that for a long time — certainly the Lydia character [played by Winona Ryder] in ‘Beetle Juice’ had that look,” Burton, the director of “Sleepy Hollow,” “Edward Scissorhands” and this summer’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” explains as he promotes the film at the film festival here. He’s wearing his trademark oversized purple sunglasses, staring out the window onto the center of Toronto in his hotel suite.
For the record, Burton hasn’t seen Jacobs’ fall pieces. “I don’t think anybody’s ever said they’ve been inspired by my movies, but I think a lot of fashion designers seem to be inspired by movies. I think that’s kind of funny, because it doesn’t seem to be the other way around.”
The narrative arc of “Corpse Bride” comes from a Russian folk tale Burton heard from a friend, but if the movie is set in any particular era, it’s ostensibly fin de siècle. One of the film’s constructs is that the land of the living is mostly in black and white, while the underworld is filled with color. The filmmaker says it’s a comment on the bureaucracy of social life, but growing up in suburban California, Burton recalls he always felt death was a “dark cloud,” a forbidden subject. Living near Mexico, he was fascinated by the Day of the Dead celebrations that featured skeletons dancing and blasts of color. “It seemed a much more appropriate and positive way of looking at death,” he says. “It’s more of a celebration of life.”
Burton says the biggest challenge of filming was to animate the character’s hair and clothing. “There was a lot of time spent on the veil material, the dress material. We needed clothing with texture to it so it didn’t look rubbery.”
Having originally sketched all the costumes himself, he laughs at the suggestion that the Corpse Bride’s gown, a stunning piece of tattered bridalwear and the film’s most interesting fashion piece, was inspired by any designer in particular: “I haven’t seen anyone with a dress quite like that,” Burton admits. “But I think it would look quite nice on some people. You know, the exposed rib cage is a great detail.”