The Story On Toy Story

With the Thanksgiving holiday and school out for a long weekend, there’s been lots of kid TV on around the house. And with all the junk that’s out there, I’ve been reminded of what gems the movies of the Toy Story trilogy are.

Such gems, in fact, that when Toy Story 2 came out, it was cited as one of the few films that represent the “golden ratio” of film – that combination of factors that make for a perfectly balanced screenplay.

Another great thing that the Toy Story movies did was free animated film – and specifically Disney-produced and distributed animation – from the bonds of musical featuring princesses and rehashed fairy tale stories. Nothing against musicals – they certainly have their place in the world, and even in genre film.

This happened once before, if you remember, in the 1950s when Walt Disney (the man) got consumed with creating his eponymous theme parks and left the studio animation division to others. It’s funny how you can tell exactly when that happens – it’s when stories based Grimm brothers tales diminish and the number of plot contingent musical numbers decline or are replaced by those that swing rather than soar.

Eventually – whether because of laziness or because of perceived saleability – the Mouse decided to go back to fairy tale musicals and began following a pretty strict formula that Pixar animator and director Andrew Stanton details in this TED video.

Pretty soon, you could recite in your sleep what each new Disney animated feature would entail – a trite retelling of a tried-and-true childhood story that would be girl-centric without abandoning the Mouse’s ever-present princess fantasy of a happy ending married to a handsome prince. For a while there, Disney just gave up.

What Pixar chose to do, Stanton explains, is to take that formula and throw it in the trash. They created original stories that, while appropriate for children almost from the moment they can understand that they’re watching a movie, are universal in their appeal and cut no corners in the level of their quality or storytelling. They were built from the ground up – no source material from the 18th century or designed to appeal to a particular demographic.

So what does this have to do with your writing in novel or short story form? It’s a great example of how you as a writer aren’t bound in any way by what people (or your genre) might expect or suggest you should create your work.

In this day of entire bookstore sections devoted exclusively to subgenres like “Teen Paranormal Romance” – also known as the “sexy teenage vampires in love” genre – it’s easy to think that the best way to have success is to write something that fits into a specific box. You can even see it in book titles, particularly among the indie e-book market, where nearly ever title seems to contain either “shades” or “grey” – or some combination thereof – to in an attempt to somehow capitalize on the success of the ubiquitous erotica phenomenon Fifity Shades of Grey and its sequels.

If all you want to do is sell some books, it’s easy to ride another’s coattails or cram yourself into a pre-existing pattern that someone else has created and others have replicated.

But keep in mind that he most renowned writers are the ones unafraid to toy existing structure or form. Some of the most popular are the ones who decide to willingly cross boundaries of style or genre to create something truly amazing.

In other words, don’t try to fit into a box for which someone else has already set the dimensions. Instead, create your own box, work within the parameters you create and don’t worry about the hot genre of the moment.

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