Tag Archives: Disney


A Guest Post by Peter Clampton

As an avid movie goer, I have found myself over the years experiencing a stark range of emotions as I sit down in front of the large silver screen. With the wide array of movies now, you know there are going to be ones you like, others you dislike. Some are complete and utter crapshoots, which most of the time don’t land on 7. However for the first time since I’ve gone to a movie I have to say I was completely and utterly left without words to describe my surprise. When I walked into Zootopia I was expecting another forced “Kid’s movie” with clichés, and silly forced humor. Instead I found the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

This movie, simply put, is beyond good. If you haven’t watched this movie, stop reading this article, it will spoil the movie, and go buy a ticket to see it today!

For those who have already seen it, stick around because I’m going to talk about one aspect of Zootopia’s excellence that I noticed right away that has separated it from other films. Its story plotting.

RELUCTANT PARTNER -- Fast-talking, con-artist fox Nick Wilde is not really interested in helping rookie officer Judy Hopps crack her first case. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and produced by Clark Spencer, Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Zootopia" opens in theaters on March 4, 2016. ?2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
RELUCTANT PARTNER — Fast-talking, con-artist fox Nick Wilde is not really interested in helping rookie officer Judy Hopps crack her first case. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and produced by Clark Spencer, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia” opens in theaters on March 4, 2016. ?2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Now as writers we know effective scene writing comes in how every scene builds and adds to your story, especially in movies where you have only so much screen time to work with. A scene that pushes the plot while illuminating character, themes and world building will always be preferable over something that just looks cool, but does nothing to add to the overall story movement. It is in this aspect, Zootopia is flawless.

In the beginning we are introduced to Zootopia’s main star, Judy Hops. A determined and stubborn rabbit who dreams of becoming ZPD’s (Zootoopia Police Department), very first bunny cop. The greatness of this scene is not only does it work to endear us to Judy, but it also serves up powerful priming for the stories themes of predator vs. prey. We are shown the first conflict to Judy’s police dreams and see that the odds are stacked against her, and so are her parents. However within the first 7 minutes of the movie we know her motivations and witness that she is capable of reaching her goal when she steals back the carnival tickets. We are also sold on Judy character because “she doesn’t know when to quit.”

Now of course we already know the answer, but it is this presentation of the conflict, with the character arc as well as the theme in the movie that this opening is only the first of many well-conceived scenes throughout the movie. Even the fact it was a school play makes a pseudo effective way of getting around the usually weak voice over narrative trope, (Which is a big break on SHOW vs. Tell), but this movie gets away because the theme is demonstrated again and again, in EVERY SCENE throughout the movie.

From even as simple a scene as when Judy enters the city by train and the song “Try Everything” is playing, Zootopia is already priming the setting for pivotal scenes to occur throughout the movie. As introducing the minor character of Gazzelle and the world of Zootopia, with its diversity.

This diversity then illuminates another theme of “the small town kid enters big city” as Judy goes on to learn that Zootopia is far from a Utopia, and that even though she accomplished her goal there is a lot more she has to prove. I want to note that only one scene, the train scene, has transpired before the plot and conflict is again evolved and presented. From her defunct cramped apartment to her lowly assignment as a meter maid, we now see that Judy has to reconcile with her crumbling expectations of Zootopia, and her dreams to be a “real cop.” Not only do these scenes work to build up to the main story conflict within the movie, but in one seriously slick scene we are introduced to Zootopia’s other star, Nick Wilde the fox, who cons a popsicle out of Judy and some elephants. This is an article about plotting but I just want to mention offhandedly how choosing a fox to star along a rabbit builds wonderfully into the themes of tolerance and diversity. Two natural enemies who have to work together and in the end become friends…way to hit it on the head Disney.

Anyway back to plotting. For the final scene of the first act before the main conflict of the movie, we get a chase scene where Judy chases down a thieving weasel.

bunny1Judy is banging her head while hating life because she is a simple meter maid, and doubts if she is even a “real cop.” Then the opportunity comes where she must chase down the weasel through the mouse district of Zootopia. During the chase she is shown righting the wrongs by correcting toppled houses and saving a small vole from being crushed by a giant donut. Judy eventually catches the weasel, using the giant donut and confiscates his bag of “onions.”

Simple chase scene right? Wrong. This scene is another great example as everything from even the blocking of the action in the scene builds to add to the story world and plays into the plot while also being fun to watch.

Focusing on just pure plotting elements Judy’s little hoorah in “Little Rodentia” sets the stages for three major obstacles in the stories main plot. The first is when we meet the character “Mr. Big,” who we see is simple a tiny vole mob boss in the vein of “the Godfather,” who has no problem “icing” our stars.When all seems lost we learn that the vole that Judy saved earlier is indeed the Mob bosses beloved daughter, who vouched for Judy, and saved both Nick and Judy from a watery grave.

The second major plot point set up in this scene is the name and eventual identity of the “nighthowler” flowers which are causing the residents of Zootopia to go crazy. It’s subtle but when Judy is talking to Chief Bogo after the chase she drops the name “Midnicampum holicithias,” priming us to see and recognize this plant when we learn that rabbits and foxes call them by different names.

This also in-turn solves the last conflict of where Judy knows where and how to find the nighthowlers because she tracks down our weasel illegally bootlegging Disney movies solving the problem of finding the location of who exactly is using the flowers in the first place. Not bad for a single chase scene, huh?

Now it should be noted that this is Disney’s longest animated feature film to date with a run time twelve minutes shy of two hours. Easily exceeding traditional limits applied for family films, it is no easy task to tell a crime detective story in that time frame. So the fact they managed that, along with astounding characterizations, as well as the appeal to children boasts significantly to its writing chops.

Zootopia is an amazing movie from top to bottom, and though I don’t want to call it perfect, I’ve been hard pressed to figure out why not. With its presentation of plot, story and its amazing environment and characters Zootopia is a marvel of classic and modern day storytelling wrapped into one. Watch it at least twice, you won’t be sorry.

Onyie 4Peter Clampton is an author, a dreamer and most importantly a man with a vision. It’s a simple vision really. He is working to become a great story teller and hopes to share light through stories and enable others to do the same. He is Author of the Post-apocalyptic Western series “The Girl and The Beast,” which can be viewed, along with his other fiction on his website www.Peterclampton.com.

Petting the Dog

A few months ago I took one of David Farland’s workshops where he introduced me to a concept known as “Petting the Dog.” He explained that in Hollywood, writers would introduce a scene to sell a character’s likability to the audience by petting a dog or kissing a baby or something of that sort. Since the class I have taken note of those scenes in film and in writing.

In past Disney films, many of the characters were all good or all bad and of course their actions reflected this. From Cinderella and the mice, Aurora and the fairies, Snow White and the Dwarves, Mary Poppins and the blue jay and Ariel and the crustacean band, these characters gained likability by showing that they treated other critters and creatures well and by doing charitable and kind acts.

In later years, characters have not been so “traditional” and one-dimensional. Aladdin for example was a thief but he shared his bread with the street orphans, in essence “petting the dog.” That’s how Disney sold Aladdin’s likability in spite of him being in an unlikable profession.

shrek birdShrek was another that didn’t follow tradition. They even took the “petting the dog scene” of Mary Poppins and Snow White, singing with a Blue Jay. I never laughed so hard at a movie when the bird exploded; it was completely unexpected and yet endearing.

Maleficent had to go through some rebranding in the recent Disney film. How did they take a terrible witch sorceress that threatened to kill Prince Charming and make her likable? They showed her as a child and a guardian of the woods, kind to its critters and creatures and as an adult, kind and caring to Aurora.

Villain protagonists or hero antagonists are becoming more popular in film and literature. Entire television series are based on the dichotomy present in such characters doing bad things for righteous reasons, like The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, House of Cards, The Sopranos, Almost Human, Deadwood, Justified, Revenge and so many more. Each of these relies heavily on “petting the dog” scenes.

Tig and DogIn Sons of Anarchy, Tig a member of the MC and up until a certain point was one of my most favorite characters, mistakenly killed another member’s wife. I hated him for it. I hated the writers for it. I resented going to that place that they took me, but I went all the same. I expected that the writers didn’t care about the character as much as I did and were going to kill him off. But in following episodes there were many scenes that showed a tender side to Tig. In one, he walked into a dogfight and rescues a pit bull about to be put down because it lost. This reminded me that Tig was human and not a monster. The writers brought him back by “petting the dog.”

House of Cards opened with a “petting the dog” scene. The villain protagonist, Frank Underwood tends to a dog is hit by a car. He pets the dog then kills it, supposedly for a righteous reason, but the scene gives us tremendous insight into this Underwood’s character.

Of course, these scenes do not always involve a dog. As David Heyman pointed out in an earlier post, NASA was able to endear the public to a couple of machines through their twitter feeds.

In the Shield, the series opens with a dirty cop, Vic Mackey, killing a righteous officer. The writers needed to sell the viewer that Vic was worth investing into with enduring emotion, even though he did something so heinous. I’m not sure they ever really pulled it off, but the “petting the dog” scenes involved a prostitute with a small child. Vic went out of his way multiple times to help this woman and her son.

Good storytellers endear us to characters, not by showing them doing what everyone else would do, but by showing us the exception. By allowing our characters to “pet the dog” we can offer great insights to their moral codes and personal thoughts, even if they are a psycho killer.

What other examples of “petting the dog” have you seen?

The Ley-Lines of Creative Inspiration

A guest post by James A. Owen.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that Walt Disney was and is a continuing influence on my life and work. It was the scope of his ambition as much as anything else that is so inspiring to me: theme parks, film, animation, publishing, and even his business philosophies… There are so many instances where something he did or influenced became a source for inspiring work of my own that the ley-lines of inspiration that connect me to Disney literally touch every part of my life and career.

I’m one of those people who revels in the documentaries about how he began, and built up his company, and especially those about individual projects like the animated films and especially, Disneyland. The animators he called the Nine Old Men were the core of both his original animated masterpieces, as well as his ventures into theme parks, and a lot of that early work was done at the old Hyperion Studio in Los Angeles – a studio which is no longer there. Instead, what stands on the property is a Gelson’s Supermarket. They have some framed photos of the old studio in the market, where I spent a lot of time a decade ago, buying ginger ale and killing time waiting for my agent to call.

At one point, the manager saw me looking out the windows – again – and gently told me that the original studio was completely gone. That there was nothing left of those buildings. I told him I understood, then asked if the studio buildings had faced Hyperion Avenue just like the market did. He said they had. And I replied, “That’s why I’m here. That’s the view they had when they worked on those films.” And he was astounded. Apparently, no one had ever looked up. A lot of people came there to recognize that geographical location – but I wanted to put myself in the shoes of Walt and the Nine Old Men. I wanted to sit at their desks. And The easiest way to do that, and draw on the same inspiration that they drew upon, was to look up, and see the same hills they saw as they worked.

I love the Disney Studios in Burbank for much the same reason. Everyone who visits gravitates towards the Michael Graves-designed executive building with the twenty-foot-high seven dwarves that hold up the roof. The interiors are majestic, the floors, immaculate cold marble. It is austere, and serene, and elegant, and it makes me crazy. I much prefer the old animation buildings, with the faded paint, and linoleum floors (some of which do have carpet, now), and outdated windows and doors – because those were the buildings where Walt and the animators worked. Those were the offices he designed. The feel of those spaces is the feel that brought forth incredible works like Sleeping Beauty, and inspired Walt’s original plans for Disneyland.

The same energies I feel in those old studio locations I feel times one thousand with regards to Disneyland itself. Walt Disney World is bigger and grander in every way – but Disneyland was where Walt wandered around reveling in this great thing he was building and bringing into being. I still have the first Disneyland souvenir book my aunt brought to me, with a back cover that announced a newfangled roller-coaster attraction called Space Mountain. I was told they hardly ever lost anyone in space during the course of the ride. I still wonder. There was a photo of the old cemetery caretaker in the Haunted Mansion that is the direct inspiration for my character Ezekiel Higgins in my StarChild graphic novels and the just-completed book Fool’s Hollow. And Disneyland itself was where I first started writing the book my name and reputation are built upon, Here, There Be Dragons.

I had visited the park several times in my childhood – it was the every-other-year vacation destination for our family – and continued to go as often as I could as an adult. I was involved professionally with a number of people at different divisions of the company, but my real passion was the park itself and the resort environment that radiated from it as the years progressed. I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles a decade ago waiting for meetings on the various projects I was working on, and a few overnight stays closer to the different film studios themselves – basically, Hollywood proper – convinced me I didn’t want to spend any more time in that part of the city than was required by law or my agents. I preferred to make the long drive from and back to Anaheim for the meetings that actually occurred, because that meant that I could spend my free time at the parks, or at the Disneyland Hotel, or in the just-completed Downtown Disney.

There was a bookstore in Downtown Disney – now replaced by an Earl of Sandwich – where I could browse all morning, and there were chairs and tables along greenbelts outside where I could spend afternoons working and reading and dreaming. I could wander the waterfall walks at the Disneyland Hotel – now replaced with bigger swimming pools and a Monorail-themed slide – and there were several restaurants where I could grab a quick soda or slice of pizza to eat.

I couldn’t afford to stay at the nicer hotels, not when I was there for weeks at a time, and so I stayed at an inexpensive motel farther down Harbor, a Rodeway Inn (then called the Vagabond) where I had stayed so often the Bangladeshi family who owned it began referring to me as their “beloved customer.” The first time I was there, I hooked my computer up to the phone for internet, and it dialed my provider – in Arizona. The manager had to tell me I’d spent a couple of weeks worth of deposit on three days worth of internet access by way of long-distance charges, but as I was their beloved customer, they were fine with me mailing a check after I got home.

I stayed at the Vagabond so that I had the proximity to Disneyland, and that was where I wrote much of Here, There Be Dragons. That was where I sat, hoping, dreaming, planning. When I had money, I’d spend a day at the park. When I didn’t, I’d sit outside it, by the roses under the monorail track, where I could watch the train come in at the entrance, and dream more, hope more, and then, go back to the greenbelt or bookstore or room 202 at the Vagabond, which they made sure to give me because it had the biggest desk, and work more.

At one point, I had a presentation that required art, and I needed more space to lay it out than I had at the motel. So I got dressed up in my nicest outfit, went over to the conference center at the Disneyland Hotel, consulted the convention schedule – and which rooms were being used – and simply set everything up in one of the empty rooms. If anyone stuck their head in to ask what I was doing, I’d simply answer “I’m working,” then get back to it. No one bothers someone working in really nice clothes who act as if they belong there. I also learned if you tip the cleaning staff, who never get tips for cleaning conference room space, they’ll be more than happy to pop down to the gift shop and grab a soda for you.

I was in a specific chair at the Disneyland Hotel when I got the news that the producer of the Harry Potter films wanted to option my books. (They didn’t make the movie, but that deal was how I got into the Writer’s Guild and got health insurance.) I worked on a specific bench in the conference center to prepare my presentations for what would become my biggest book deal. I bought the issue of the Hollywood Reporter that announced my first movie deal at the newsstand in Downtown Disney. The first time I saw a copy of Here, There Be Dragons in a bookstore was at the now-gone Compass Books. I celebrated signing the contracts and delivery of the first draft of Fool’s Hollow at two separate dinners with friends and family at the Napa Rose restaurant at the Grand Californian Hotel. I made choices about my career in movies while looking at the candle that they keep lit in Walt’s old apartment over the firehouse in Disneyland. I made decisions about my publishing career standing by the public phones outside the restrooms at the Grand Californian. I first thought of doing window displays of my characters while strolling along Main Street, and created what would become my first animatronics exhibit, part of which will be reemerging at the upcoming Salt Lake Comicon, after reading the big book on Disney Imagineering, in which I also drew the first design for my animatronics walkthrough I took to the San Diego Comicon years ago.

I wanted to be an artist because of the Nine Old Men, and got to meet four of them (Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, and Eric Larson) and because of the book The Illusion of Life that Frank and Ollie co-authored. I wanted to write adventure stories because of the Uncle Scrooge comics written and drawn by Carl Barks, which I read as a child, and found again as a teenager in huge reprint hardcovers that were produced by a publishing imprint in Scottsdale, whose principals became friends of mine  through our shared love of comics. Over the love of those same Barks stories, I became friends with SF author Alan Dean Foster, who wrote an introduction for an issue of StarChild early in my career, and another mutual friend went on to become an animator at Pixar, where I will be going to meet with artists this Fall, and extend the Disney-influenced ley-lines even further.

There are places that are important to us, creatively, because of what they inspire. Sometimes, those places are where other creative did great work.  Sometimes, it’s those small connections with people that create the points for the ley-lines. I have an old letterhead – my own – with a message on it written to me by master animator Ward Kimball. When I met him, and we shook hands, he smiled and remarked, “You’ve now touched the hand that touched the hand of Walt Disney.” What made that meaningful to me was that Disney died years before I was born – but one small gesture, one brief comment, gave me a connection to him I treasure.

Every book, every place, every film, every artist, every single connection I have to the things and people Walt Disney influenced have had an influence on me, and the work I do and choices I make. That is a powerful thing. Sometimes, you can’t always see where the ley-lines of creative inspiration connect to the things that were, are, or will be the most meaningful in your life – and you can’t always see where you, and the work you do, and the things and people you influence may be creating ley-lines of influence for someone else. But you are. I promise you, if you do anything creative, you are. And that is hugely, HUGELY, important to me: when someone comes to me and says, “I chose this path because YOU inspired me,” that means something, because I have said those words. I have felt the depth of meaning in them. And I know what they really are: an intersection of ley-lines of something awesome, in a connection that won’t ever be broken. And they’re easier to see than you think – just look up. And keep going. That’s it.

Guest Writer Bio: James A. Owen is the author of the bestselling Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, the creator of the critically acclaimed StarChild graphic novel series, and the author of the MythWorld series of novels, the author and illustrator of the forthcoming series Fool’s Hollow, and the author of the nonfiction trilogy called The Meditations. He is also the founder and executive director of Coppervale International, a creative think tank and studio that also publishes magazines and books, and develops and produces television and film projects. He makes his home in Arizona, where he is currently redesigning an entire town. Visit him at heretherebedragons.net and at jamesaowen.com.