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12 Lively Facts About Corpse Bride

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Corpse Bride wed some innovative, 21st-century animation to a centuries-old story about life, death, and devotion. More than 10 years in the making, the breathtaking film began filming during one of the busiest chapters in co-director Tim Burton’s life. Despite this, the movie’s all-star cast and state-of-the-art puppetry secured it a chorus of critical praise and an Oscar nomination. We’ve dug up some fascinating facts about the liveliest cadaver film in recent memory.

1. IT’S BASED ON AN OLD JEWISH FOLKTALE.

As production on The Nightmare Before Christmas came to a close, storyboard supervisor Joe Ranft approached Tim Burton with a macabre little yarn that he knew the auteur would eat right up. Titled “The Finger,” this twisted tale came from Shivhei ha-Ari, a 17th-century text that includes a number of Jewish folk stories. Set in Russia, “The Finger” is about a young bridegroom who slips his wedding ring onto the finger of a corpse while reciting his vows. Suddenly, the cadaver leaps up and exclaims “My husband!” Duly horrified, the man brings his would-be spouse before a local rabbi, who annuls their marriage by declaring that the dead can lay no claim to the living. With a piercing shriek, the corpse then falls apart into a pile of disjointed bones, never to rise again.

Suffice it to say Ranft knew his audience: Burton was immediately drawn to the tale and began developing a big-screen adaptation of it. In its transition from a centuries-old folk story to a mainstream film, the original narrative underwent some major changes. Case in point: Burton’s screenwriters devised a more family-friendly climax and shifted the setting from Russia to a fictional locale modeled after Victorian England. Also, allusions to Judaism were omitted because, according to co-writer John August, “Tim gravitates towards a universal, fairy-tale quality in his films.”

2. BURTON, JOHNNY DEPP, AND MANY OTHERS WORKED ON CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY AND CORPSE BRIDE SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for MOMA

Both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride essentially entered their production phases at the same time. The overlap presented a big challenge for Burton, who lent his directorial talents to both films. Corpse Bride saw him share the helm with co-director (and stop motion animator) Mike Johnson. “Tim knew where he wanted the film to go as far as the emotional tone and story points to hit,” Johnson said. “My job was to work with the crew on a daily basis and get the footage as close as possible to how I thought he wanted it.”

Complicating things further was the fact that a number of key actors who appeared in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Christopher Lee—also did voicework for Corpse Bride. In many cases, these players would portray their characters in the live action Roald Dahl flick by day before recording their Corpse Bride lines at night.

Composer Danny Elfman was likewise asked to work on both projects concurrently. In fact, according to the musician, Burton hired him to score Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the same day. Elfman said he spent a full year “essentially shuttling up and back between writing and producing for both films simultaneously, kind of like a ping-pong ball.”

3. DEPP DEVELOPED HIS CHARACTER’S PERSONA IN ABOUT 15 MINUTES FLAT.

As Depp recalls in the video above, Burton approached him one day on the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and said, “Hey, I’ve got this other thing, Corpse Bride. Maybe you could look at it.” Depp read the script and loved it immediately—however, he assumed that he wouldn’t start working on the animated feature for another couple of months. “So you can imagine my surprise,” Depp said, “when … Tim arrives on the set [one day] and says ‘Hey, maybe tonight we’ll record some of Corpse Bride.’” At that point, Depp hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to how he’d portray Victor or what made the bridegroom tick. On their way to the recording booth, the actor sat Burton down and “grilled him for 15 minutes.” In that crucial quarter of an hour, Depp devised an entire set of mannerisms and motivations for Victor.

4. THE CHARACTER DESIGNS WERE ADAPTED FROM TIM BURTON’S ROUGH SKETCHES.

In 2003, Burton approached Spanish artist Carlos Grangel with a copy of the Corpse Bride script and some illustrations of the main characters that the director himself had drawn. “Here are my sketches,” Burton told Grangel. “I want you to push them and explore every character.” The final designs Grangel came up with did not depart significantly from Burton’s original drawings.

By the way, you might have noticed that Victor—Corpse Bride’s protagonist—looks an awful lot like the actor who voiced him: Johnny Depp. Burton swears this was coincidental. Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, the director said that the characters were all designed “long before” any of the voice actors were cast. In Burton’s words, when Depp signed on, “We felt like it was such good karma because [Victor] did resemble Johnny.”

5. HELENA BONHAM CARTER HAD TO WAIT TWO WEEKS FOR BURTON TO TELL HER SHE HAD BEEN CAST.

Among Corpse Bride’s primary cast members, Helena Bonham Carter—Burton's then-romantic partner and the voice of the title character—was the only one who had to audition for her role. She has stated that it took Burton two weeks to inform her that she’d gotten the gig, though the co-director has waved off this allegation. “Oh, I think she's an actress so she is making it much more dramatic," the director said. "There was probably a slight little bit of torture there, but it's a two way street. I don't think it was as dramatic as that."

6. THE 30 PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS WERE BROUGHT TO LIFE WITH 300 PUPPETS.

These were crafted by MacKinnon and Saunders, a puppet-making company based in Manchester, England. (Over the years, their team has worked on such other projects as Fantastic Mr. Fox and TV’s Bob the Builder.) For the 30 main players in Corpse Bride’s story, a grand total of 300 puppets were built—the most expensive of which commanded a $30,000 price tag. The group included 14 individual Emily models and a dozen Victors. As producer Allison Abbate revealed in the clip above,the puppets “were constantly being refurbished and changed out” during the production.

7. THE PUPPETS’ HEADS WERE CONTROLLED WITH MINUTE GEARS AND KEYS.

Before this movie came along, the facial movements of characters in stop motion films were generally manipulated with replaceable heads or mouths. However, Corpse Bride relied on a newer technique which had previously been reserved for a handful of TV commercials. The method relied on sophisticated puppet heads filled with tiny gears, a system Burton likened to the inside of a Swiss watch. Miniscule keys are then built to fit into the ears of a character, or the back of its head. By inserting and twisting these, an animator can incrementally change the character’s expression.

“[This technique] enables us to get much more expressive performances than you could with replacement animation," Johnson told VFXWorld Magazine. "Little paddles and gears allow us to get the tiny increments. Put an Allen key inside an ear and Victor smiles; put it inside the other ear and he frowns.”

8. THE BRIDE’S VEIL WAS ESPECIALLY HARD TO ANIMATE.

Emily, the Corpse Bride, makes a grand entrance. “When she gently takes off her veil and we see her for the first time, it becomes a glamour-girl shot,” cinematographer Pete Kozachik observed. That particular garment proved to be one of the most complicated props in the entire film. Although Emily’s veil was computer-animated in some scenes, others called for it to be rendered with good, old-fashioned stop motion. This was no easy task. In the words of puppet fabrication supervisor Graham Maiden, “The most difficult thing was having Corpse Bride walk with a veil because it has to be transparent, it has to animate and it has to be very fluid … like it was under water.” After four months of research, the crew put together a transparent veil with nearly-invisible wires stitched into the fabric.

9. THERE'S A NOD TO RAY HARRYHAUSEN.

Arguably the patron saint of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen used the art form to breathe life into all manner of movie monsters. From 1959 to 1981, his rampaging dinosaurs, hissing hydras, and sword-fighting skeletons invaded cinemas all over the world. He also inspired an entire generation of artists and filmmakers—including Burton, who credits Harryhausen with kindling his lifelong passion for stop motion. At one point, the world-famous animator paid a visit to the set of Corpse Bride, where he received a hero’s welcome. “The day he came by, production sort of ground to a halt,” Johnson recalled. “Everyone had a chance to talk to him. It was amazing for all the animators.” The crew gave their idol an on-screen shout-out in the film; when Victor plays some light piano music right before he first meets Victoria, you can see Harryhausen’s last name engraved upon the instrument.

10. DANNY ELFMAN WAS ASKED TO PLAY BONEJANGLES AFTER NOBODY POPPED OUT AT THE AUDITIONS.

Without question, the jazziest song in Corpse Bride is an exposition number called “Remains of the Day.” Singing the ballad is Bonejangles, a one-eyed, big-jawed skeleton with a flair for the theatrical. As Elfman was writing the tune, he did so under the assumption that the character would have a rich, raspy voice. “We auditioned 25, 26, [or] 27 people at least,” Elfman said in the promotional video above, “and I recorded three different singers.” In the end, none of them sounded satisfactory to the creative team. Burton therefore gave the role of Bonejangles to Elfman himself. Because the character needed a gravelly voice, this job took a toll on the musician’s vocal cords. “Every time I did Bonejangles, I was hoarse for the rest of the day ... it was really brutal,” Elfman recalled.

11. CORPSE BRIDE WAS THE FIRST STOP MOTION MOVIE TO BE SHOT DIGITALLY.

Like every stop motion picture that had come before it, Corpse Bride was originally going to be shot on film. But then, a mere two weeks before production kicked off, a historic choice was made. At the suggestion of two VFX supervisors, the animation team explored the possibility of using digital cameras. As they soon discovered these newer devices would allow them to view the dailies immediately, the animators decided to shoot Corpse Bride digitally.

12. ELFMAN WROTE A SOLO SONG FOR VICTOR, WHICH WAS DELETED.

The number finds Victor yearning for his living bride-to-be from the land of the deceased. Titled “Erased,” this number was, well, erased from the score. Elfman says that it was omitted in order to reduce the film’s runtime. Apparently, “Erased” landed on the cutting room floor right before Depp began recording his lines—“probably much to his relief,” Elfman quipped. In 2010, a demo version of the song was included in a limited edition Elfman and Burton CD box set.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain
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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
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Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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