Armature in Disney

First things first, hello from other other side of our first Disney livetweet!  It was a blast, and spawned a 6 hour long, rambling Skype conversation between Shannon and I about Disney movies, fairy tales, structure, writing, plot, etc, which is why we never did watch The Emperror’s New Groove.  Sorry about that.

There were far more differences between Mulan and Lilo and Stitch than I was expecting.  Chasing the elusive “Disney magic” might be far harder than I first anticipated, and I already thought this was going to be hard.  So, oh no, I guess I’ll have to watch more Disney movies.  I don’t know if I can bear the strain.

However, I’ll leave the person who actually has a film degree to talk about beats and three act structure and timing, I want to focus on something that both films do have– a point.

I should probably explain.

Shannon has posted in the past that she doesn’t understand what I do with computers in California.  She’s actually wrong– I’m currently taking a class analyzing the elements of narrative and story in games (primarily video games).  Shannon would rock this class.  However, one of the books I read right before our livetweet session, because I had to read it for class, was Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald.

Brian has a very particular way of looking at how story works, but its rather relevant here because Brian has a background in film and cites movies for almost all of his examples.  He spends chapter 1 talking about three act structure, but in chapter 2 he talks about a concept he calls “the armature”.

An armature, in sculpture, is the underlying scaffold that supports the piece.  McDonald compares the reason why you’re telling a particular story to this armature, believing that if you don’t have anything to say– no theme, if you will– than your story will fall apart.

He also makes it sound like normal people can’t detect a theme, and only you can after reading his book.  I never said he wasn’t a bit stuck up.  I also don’t entirely buy into this concept, but you know what two movies do?  Mulan and Lilo and Stitch.

Part of Mulan’s theme is all about gender roles.  I can only think of one scene (the intro) that doesn’t make a reference to gender in some way, shape or form.  From the first song, Mulan is shown subverting gender stereotypes.  Every second joke out of Mushu’s mouth is something about men or women.  The movie never lets gender go, not even for a second.  When Shan-Yu is going to murder a village, what is his symbol for wholesale slaughter?  A doll.

Lilo and Stitch‘s theme, like everything in Lilo and Stitch, is harder to nail down.  I would say that it’s all about finding a place to belong.  Stitch starts the movie with no place in the entire galaxy.  He’s a genetic freak, a creature nature never intended.  The movie is about Stitch’s quest to find a place to belong.  Nani struggles with raising Lilo because she feels that they belong together, even if they aren’t perfect.  Lilo acts out when she looses that sense of belonging, with the single minded stubborn focus only a 9 year old can muster.

Stitch eventually finds this special place, and it gives his life meaning, purpose and clarity.  It’s that new found meaning that lets him redeem our villains and bring the movie to its thrilling climax.

I totally did not mean to make a sex joke, but there it is.  Awkward.  At any rate, according to Invisible Ink, there is a check to make sure you aren’t reading to deep into the film when looking for theme (or armature, whatever). If it seems like the theme you’ve found is a constant point that is always brought up throughout the film, than you’re probably on to something.

That’s my opinion, anyway.  I gotta get back to reading everything ever written by Hans Christen Andersen.


About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

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