4.1 Tim Burton’s Gothic Fantasy: Representing the Victorian Culture through Animation and Parody
Film adaptations based on particular works such as Dickens’s Great Expectations are not the only means through which we get a glimpse of Victorian culture and society. Animated films such as Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) represent the Victorian era through humor and exaggeration and reveal Burton’s awareness of 19th century English society. In his study Gothic Fantasy: The Films of Tim Burton, Edwin Page argues that Burton’s films are not realistic in nature, but like fairy tales they communicate through symbolic imagery, as they speak of “things far deeper within our conscious and subconscious minds than most films would dare to delve” (7). His films are believed to be personal and reflect dark humor, as he combines elements of fairy tales, the gothic, parody and grotesque. Most importantly, Burton usually identifies himself with subordinate characters in horror films that exhibit grand melodramatic emotion and also finds himself “identifying with the monsters rather than the heroes, as the monsters tended to show passion whereas the leads were relatively emotionless” (13). The monsters in his films symbolize the outsider and the alienated, a figure that defies society and is almost always exaggerated in representation. Significant examples from his numerous films include Edward in Edward Scissorhands (1990), demonic Mrs. Lovett and the blood thirsty barber in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and the tragicomically grotesque jilted bride Emily in Corpse Bride (2005).
The major issue that runs through the film that I am going to discuss in this chapter is that there are elements of the gothic, grotesque and melodrama functioning together in order to represent the Victorian era and Emily as the jilted bride in particular. The exploration of life and death, insanity and alienation are only some of the themes that his films communicate to us. What is more, Burton has an artistic style that successfully combines the comic and the terrifying aspect in one single film. In chapter 1, I referred to the term “grotesque” as a means through which the figure of Miss Havisham is represented in Dickens’s Great Expectations. Here, the grotesque is the most important artistic mode that Burton uses in order to create an imaginary world loosely based in the Victorian era. As Phillip Thomson explains, “the grotesque is a game with the absurd, in the sense that the grotesque artist plays, half laughingly half horrified, with the deep absurdities of existence” (18). Moreover, the grotesque can take either the form of the terrifying or the comic, and therefore the artist is called to abide by one of these subforms. In Burton’s case the grotesque is visually expressed through “the burlesque and the vulgarly funny”, the extravagant, but at the same time he insists on keeping the uncanny and supernatural mood in his films (Thomson 20).