Corpse Bride

by Chris Huntley

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is a beautiful, macabre fairy tale that is rich in storytelling. It seems to be structurally sound yet not structurally deep--more the feel of a short story than a feature film. This explains why it's story is both satisfying and unsatisfying. There is enough of the storyform explored to pull the threads of story together, but not nearly enough to weave as rich a story tapestry as many audience members (particularly adult audiences) like to see. However, on first viewing much of this is offset by the luxurious storytelling of both the design and execution. It is possible that there is sufficient storyform in the film to support repeated viewing. Like many films, time will tell.


Dramatica Storyform Settings:

Since I don't think there's enough in the film to specify a single storyform I am providing two different interpretations of it, structurally-speaking. The story dynamics seem to be similar for both (more or less), but the identification of the four throughlines differs greatly between the two versions.

Story Throughlines -- Version A

This version works best when looking at the domains but not much deeper. It fits the vagueness of the storyform as experienced when watching the film. Each domain works well but I found it tough to nail down more refined aspects of the structure.

  • Overall Story Throughline -- Fixed Attitude: Conflict grows in the Overall Story throughline due to conflicting attitudes and biases. Specifically between the snobby, old money, rich acting but poor (including Lord Bittern--the "good-looking" bad guy), the nouveau riche fishmongers, and even the dead v. "breathing".
  • Main Character Throughline -- Activity: Victor is defined by what he does. In public he's a jittery klutz, while in private he's a loner who plays the piano to express his inner feelings.
  • Influence Character Throughline -- Manipulation: The Corpse Bride impacts Victor by forcing him to grow a backbone. She does this by both manipulating Victor AND by refusing to manipulate him (e.g. when she can trick him into drinking the poison but chooses not to).
  • Relationship Story Throughline -- Situation: A live man is "married" to a dead woman. So long as there is this difference between Victor and the Corpse Bride, tension exists in their tenuous relationship. Their relationship is clearly over when the Corpse Bride "evaporates" into hundreds of lovely moths. (Interestingly, there is a "You and I are just alike" moment that is expanded into a piano duet.)

Though Victoria seems a likely candidate for IC, I think she's pretty much the object of desire in the OS. After the initial awkwardness of meeting Victoria, Victor pretty much decides he wants to marry her. In fact, it's only after he gets the wedding vows down RIGHT does the mix-up with the Corpse Bride take place.

Story Throughlines -- Version B

This version works best when looking at the story in a more "Hollywood" way. Some structural aspects of the storyform seem clearer (e.g. Concerns and Issues), but some parts of the story seem extraneous and fall outside the necessary storytelling indicated by the storyform. I don't like this as much because I don't think it's as thematically true to the film, but it has some strong valid points to it.

  • Overall Story Throughline -- Activity: The Everglots need money and the Van Dorts want status so they arrange to have their children marry. Much goes awry when the groom goes missing and a conniving gigolo arranges to take the groom's place to get the (nonexistent) bride's dowry. The groom is taken to the land of the dead when he mistakenly "marries" the Corpse Bride who is desperate to have a husband. The OS Concern seems best described by Obtaining with it's thematic issues of Self Interest, Morality, Approach, and Attitude.
  • Main Character Throughline -- Fixed Attitude: Victor is defined by his innermost desires. He's determined to do what's right. (In this storyform version, the MC throughline is vague because there isn't much back story--or story period--to explain his PERSONAL bias or fixed attitude.) The MC Concern is Innermost Desires with thematic issues of Closure, Hope, Denial, and Dream.
  • Influence Character Throughline -- Situation: The Corpse Bride impacts Victor because she's dead and Victor's alive. If anything's going to make Victor reconsider his fixed attitude it's this Corpse Bride. Her IC Concern is the Future (no future without a husband) with it's thematic issues of Openness, Delay, Preconception, and Choice.
  • Relationship Story Throughline -- Manipulation: Victor and the Corpse Bride manipulate each other in an effort to change the nature of their relationship. Victor manipulates the Corpse Bride to get back among the living. The Corpse Bride manipulates Victor by declaring their "marriage" and later by working to legitimize the "marriage" with a ceremony, vows, and "death" commitment. The M/I Concern is Changing One's Nature (changing the faux marriage into the real deal) with thematic concerns of Rationalization, Commitment, Obligation, and Responsibility.

As you can see, each version has it's strengths and weaknesses. Version A benefits from domains with strong thematic ties to the way the story is presented, but suffers from a lack of "depth." Version B's strengths are it's depth in the OS, IC, and M/I throughlines (particularly plot elements), but suffers from a weak MC throughline.


  • Main Character Resolve -- Steadfast: Though it seems as though Victor changes, I think this is a good example of emphasis on the MC Growth of START. He's willing to do "what's right" from the beginning, but learns to do so with gusto--whether that's marrying the Corpse Bride or Victoria.
  • Influence Character Resolve -- Change: On the other hand, Victor's steadfastness, yet willingness to grow by accepting what he's required to do, leads the Corpse Bride to CHANGE. She backs off from her Manipulations and breaks off the wedding.
  • Main Character Growth -- Start: Victor grows by learning to step up to the plate instead of holding back.
  • Main Character Approach -- ??: Depending on which version of the storyform you like, Victor is either a Do-er or a Be-er. Though compassionate and reclusive, he seems to me more likely to solve problems by doing something (practicing vows, escaping to the land of the living, even marrying the Corpse Bride) than to resolve things internally as a Be-er.
  • Story Outcome -- Success: Victor and Victoria are to be wed and the Corpse Bride gets her revenge on the man who left her "dead at the altar". Victor and Victoria and the Corpse Bride bring about a "meeting of the minds," so to speak which resolve many of the biases established early on in the story.
  • Story Judgment -- Good: Victor is in a good place (personally) based on his growth and character choices.
  • Story Driver -- Action: The clinching event that locks the story in happens when Victor unknowingly places the wedding ring on the Corpse Bride's boney finger after reciting his vows. One can argue that the rehearsal dinner is the inciting event (or even the murder of the Corpse Bride in the back story) but things really lock in with the ring on her finger. Ultimately, it's Lord Bittern's death and the Corpse Bride's release from the nether world that brings about the end of the story.

So, Corpse Bride is more than dazzling eye-candy yet not quite the full course meal an audience might want. It's fun. It's beautiful. It's not quite a grand argument story but you'll get no argument from me...I liked it.

About the Author

Chris Huntley co-developed Dramatica over a period of fourteen years and is the Vice President and Academy Technical Achievement Award® winning co-creator of Write Brothers, Inc. His 29 years of experience with script formatting, word processing and software development are reflected in the acclaimed Dramatica theory of story. Mr. Huntley continues to develop writing tools for Write Brothers, Inc.

Prev Articles Home Next

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now