Monthly Archives: May 2014

_____________ Waltz (working title)

We might be bad at titles.

Progress on the writing front continues.  Slowly.  I blame the speed of writing on this being the last two weeks of school before the summer.  But, I’m here to talk our fairy tale of choice, how that choice helped us start to flesh out a character and how our setting is totally not related to anything.

However, I have other cool things to talk about– I’ve asked a friend who is an aspiring composer to see about writing some music for us.  As we’ve covered here, Disney movies work on a strong emotional level, and as such, I wanted to bring in a composer as soon as we had the fairy tale and setting nailed down.  More on that front later in the post.

In addition, I have a tentative ‘yes’ from another friend who does pretty pictures that move.  This job is more colloquially known as an ‘animator’.  No, we’re not going to try and do an entire movie, because that is madness.  Therein lies the abyss, and as Nietzsche wrote, “..as you gaze at Disney princesses, they gaze back at you.”  Or something like that.

The reason behind this is that some concept art and concept music will probably influence the writing.  Maybe that’s not a thing you worry about with screenplays, but as stated before, I’m not the part of this collective with a film degree.  Plus, the more people I can get excited about this project, the greater chance I have of convincing people I’m a high functioning adult.  Also, the greater chance this turns into something even more awesome than an epic script.

So, it’s past time I started actually talking a bit about what we’re writing.  We will be adapting the Grimm fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (TDP for the rest of this post.  Blame all the academic writing I’ve had to read recently).  The merchandising potential should be immense.

Shannon and I both compiled a top three list fairy tales, in no particular order, and one honorable mention.  Both our lists contained the same tales– TDP, RumpelstiltskinPuss in Boots, and The Brave Little Tailor.

I promise you we aren’t the same person.

Anyway, I pushed for TDP over the other films because 1) both Puss in Boots and Rumpelstilskin have been done to varying degrees recently and 2) The Brave Little Tailor seemed trickier to adapt.

So, what’s important in TDP?  What can’t we, as adapters, change?  Why has this tale been handed down through time, and adapted for countless cultures?  Hm, tough question.

Well, the most obvious examples of things that need to be in the Disney movie are in the title– there are twelve princesses, and they are going to dance.  There is really no way to adapt this tale and not have either of those things present.  In particular though, we get some help from the tale– ten out of twelve princesses can be foils/background characters.  We only need to focus on two of them, the youngest and oldest.

I’ve settled on some names to call them while we hash out plot details– Luna is our oldest, Cassiopeia is our youngest.  All of them have names vaguely related to celestial bodies that also have Russian/Slavic roots (well, Luna has its roots in Latin, but it’s also the Russian word for moon).  You’ll see why the roots are important later.  The names are almost certainly subject to change as we keep writing.

The fairy tale is told from the perspective of a male protagonist.  I don’t see this as an essential element of the tale, but it’s certainly a perfectly fine place to start.  Besides, it’s a fairly unique perspective for a Disney movie.  I’m not denying Aladdin exists, I’m just saying that there are more Snow Whites in the library.  That brings our number of characters up to three– a male protagonist and primary point of view, the oldest princess and the youngest princess.

The other really important thematic element is shoes.  The give away for the princesses sneaking off to dance every night is their footwear– shoes are to this tale what the lamp is to Aladdin.  

The other thematic elements are harder to pin down– most of the fairy tale has curiosity as a motivation for characters.  The downside is here is that curiosity is not a very strong motivator– think of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  When she goes to explore the west wing, she’s spitting in the face of danger for no better reason than, “But what does this button do?”

I’d claim that curiosity works best as either supplemental motivation, or as a way to get a character to trigger a good inciting incident.  Ariel doesn’t trade her fins for legs because she’s curious about the human world, she does it because her curiosity helped her to fall in love with prince Eric.

Alice in Wonderland, for another example, starts with curiosity being the driving force behind Alice’s actions– she has an insatiable need to know what the rabbit is late for (… did I just do innuendo there?  I feel like I did).  Her curiosity slowly brings wisdom in the trippy-est sense of the word, and transforms into a desire to get back to reality as she finds out that her fantasies don’t always work out for her.

Heeeeeeeey.  Wait a minute—

Let’s not deal with curiosity, but the deal with the knowledge that curiosity brings.  If you want to go poking at the edges of a bit of fabric, the whole thing can start to unravel on you.  What if it does?  What if you learn something you can’t keep to yourself, and that knowledge forces you to act?  What if it’s the last thing your sisters want?  What if it turns your whole world upside down?  What if it makes you do something hard?

Oooh.  Luna is starting to shape up into something character-like.  So, what is she curious about?  What does she learn?

Well, the nightly dances seem to be an obvious place to start.  Clearly, the princesses enjoy them in the tale, so what if they were malicious in some other, unknown way?  Through the course of the tale, then Luna is going to learn about some dark design behind the dancing, and will have to reject her nightly bliss to do the right thing.  She’ll have to reject the fantasy and face the reality.

Yeah, it’s pretty Lion King.  I said this was rough, didn’t I?  What is the sinister plot?  Umm.  Magic?  We’re working on it.

Speaking of magic, our setting is a futuristic Russia.  I told you it wasn’t related to anything else.  Most of the motivation here was just, “what hasn’t Disney done?”., with the follow-up, “What hasn’t Disney done well?”

The idea is to invoke the shit out of Clark’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from [Disney] magic.  As such, we’re going to go in the other direction than something like Terminator or Deus Ex.  This isn’t a gritty future, this isn’t hard sci-fi based on actual science of today.  This is a whimsical, magical future.  This is the future of Meet The Robinsons.

But maybe not with that much whimsy, because holy shit does that movie has whimsy.  That about wraps up all I wanted to talk about, so that’s what– a character teaser and some setting information?  Sounds about as much as you’d get from a teaser trailer.

Anyway, on to other things!  The composer who I’ve asked to write pretty music (or not pretty music, if that’s what this script needs), is Kaelee, who is based somewhere out of the greater Seattle Metro area.

You can listen to selections from her work in progress musical, Starshine, on YouTube here.  The track linked in question is “What I Am”, and is pretty goddamn fantastic.

The animator is Steven, who might be the most Internet famous of all of us because he’s made it to io9.  He’s currently doing animation things in Los Angeles, and I’ll be sure to edit in a referral link as soon as I remember to ask for one.

June should be a very fruitful month for writing, as we actually get a real outline on the page and maybe even a first draft (so all these other fantastic people have the ability to work with something more than our outline of questions divided into acts).

Tune in next week for a hopefully more complete post about our protagonist, or maybe our villain, or maybe the youngest princess or maybe more on our setting.  Or maybe how Answer Set Programming should be combined with genetic algorithms, if I get tired enough and have both the blog and my class notes open at the same time.

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There is something fishy in Atlantis (it’s not the linguistics)

So, last week we watched Atlantis and The Rescuers.

Wait, you want to know how script writing is going?  Have a hint: Vladimir Putin.  No, but seriously– we’ve got a bunch of pages of notes and have realized that we both are kinda sorta awful at planning things.  When things settle down a little bit for me, I plan on getting a real post about it out (I might have missed a week, maybe?).

Anyway, lets talk about Atlantis because this was a movie I’ve seen twice recently and I mis-pegged it the first time around.  Oh, it’s still bad.  Atlantis bombed in the box office, and although Disney has done worse, it’s not exactly a movie I recommend.  Which is sad, because look at how cool that submarine is.

Pity it gets like... 5 minutes of screen time.
Pity it gets like… 5 minutes of screen time.

I’m used to this problem by now, because I work with computers, but if you’re a linguist and you want to see Atlantis… get ready to cringe.  Also, feel my pain.  However, I’m pretty used to professions being magic in Disney movies, so I don’t think this is where the film fails.  I’m sure sewing is too complicated for actual mice, but I won’t poke that hole in Cinderella.  You got to buy into some baseline amount hand waving/magic.  In this case, linguistics (much like friendship) is magic.

So, that’s out.

I gotta give credit where credit is due– the movie is hilarious.  Hands down, the supporting cast’s one liners are comedy gold.  And, hey, all the cast members get a bit of back story, except for Mole because you don’t ask about Mole’s back story.

Most of each back story snippet is, in fact, a little quirky and interesting.  The demolitions expert wants to open a flower shop, the mechanic was pressured into being great at repairing things by a father who wanted sons, the doctor got into war medicine from being drafted.

I had originally thought that Atlantis’ great failing was it’s protagonist.  Milo Thatch falls under the same problems as Jim from Treasure Planet.  Namely, that sometimes protagonists are less people and more just shells that we the audience are supposed to project ourselves into.

However, on re-watch… I no longer buy into that theory.  Milo is a fleshed out character.  He adores his father who perished before the outset of the movie.  He has a dream, and is willing to sacrifice everything on it.  He’s that ubiquitous awkward nerd type.  Now, he just needs a good character arc and he’s set.

Unfortunately, the plot to Atlantis is about as ramshackle as they come.  Lets start with character motivations, shall we?

It isn’t through any achievement of Milo’s that he gets to hang out with the cool kids (aka the rest of the cast).  They just get bored of teasing him, and then everyone is friends, apparently.  They continue to tease Milo after he’s proven his specialty in gibberish is useful, and then just sorta… stop.

Milo’s lack of arc is not helped by his love interest.  Which, by the way, can we just say it’s really awkward when Disney goes for sex appeal?  I mean, at least it isn’t a stripping mouse this time (go watch The Great Mouse Detective if you don’t believe me), but come on.  It’s even worse in the fact that Kida doesn’t do a whole lot– she’s basically just there to look nice, and then be a plot device.

"See, Sailor Moon, I can make adolescent boys confused too!"

No, but seriously.  Most of Kida’s dialogue is during her “date” ( which is going pretty badly, based on the conversation) with Milo.  Also, that scene is painfully bad– the running gag isn’t funny, and it just makes you wonder if Kida suffered a blow to the head during that whole apocalypse 8500-8800 years ago.

Other than that, she delivers exposition to Milo, spurs on his already well established curiosity, and gets turned into a crystal.

Also, although our supporting cast has back story, they don’t really develop.  They pull a pretty random about-face when they realize that their actions will lead the entire Atlantean population to die (at least the movie is willing to lampshade it).  And the villain will eventually turn on his compatriot for no apparent reason.

And I think that pokes at the huge flaw here.  Things just happen because they do, and explanation is hard to come by.  How is Atlantis’ culture dying?  Never explained.  How did an entire population forget how to read their own script? Never explained.  Why does the crystal only feel threatened when they kick a tiny pebble somewhere close to it?  Not explained.  Outsiders can’t see Atlantis and live, so did the King plan on murdering them after letting them restock their supplies and spend the night, or did he just assume that they’d eventually starve to death looking for a way back to the surface?

So many plot holes, so many questions.  So, despite a strong grounding with a really cool setting (look at that sub picture again), some great characters (I’d watch a TV series that’s just the crew just putting around, exploring places), the lackluster plot really hurts this film.

We shall do better!

Audience Participation

Hi!

I haven’t written a post in a month and a half, and that is bad and I feel bad.  In my defense, I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the rest of April unable to believe that I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the last two weeks catching up on all the work I should have done in April when I was boat-shocked.

That isn’t entirely true, but it’s close enough for government work.

At any rate, two weeks ago, I invited some friends over, cracked out the nice booze and re-watched some more Disney films, bringing The Little Mermaid and Tangled up to the good ol’ analysis block.

Both of these films are remarkably similar (and both performed well at the box office).  So similar, in fact, that they might as well have been the same film, done slightly differently for different generations of viewers.  I’m not insane in this idea– The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, and Tangled  came out in 2010.  That’s a 21 year difference, and generations usually span about 24 years (looking at a wikipedia article, anyway).

I know that this doesn’t hold serious water– people are starting to have kids older and older (in the US, at any rate)– but just run with me for a post.  Mostly because I think we can start to see a vague outline of a Disney archetype, and the flaws and strengths of that archetype.

Tangled and The Little Mermaid both have female leads.  I’d tentatively classify both leads as strong.  Ariel is on a quest for a man, but she does almost all the heavy lifting on her quest for her true love.  Eric just looks pretty, misses the point, gets enchanted, but then stabs Ursula with a ship.  So, he spends most of the film as pretty incompetent, but manages to get a crowning moment of awesome.

Rapunzel beats people with frying pans and has an eidetic memory.  It’s clear she’s a strong lead, however, her love interest also isn’t astonishingly competent.

“But, he steals the crown from under the king’s nose!” you decry.  Well, yeah, but he had help from the Stabbington brothers.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Flynn’s little quip about allergies, they might have gotten away totally clean.  Flynn stumbles into Rapunzel completely by accident, and spends the rest of the movie getting helped by Rapunzel’s singing ability, Rapunzel’s hair and a den of thieves with aspirations.  When he tries to save Rapunzel, he gets stabbed.

It’s actually an important part of the movie– Flynn, as Flynn, is playing an act.  It’s all bluster, and that mask isn’t the person Rapunzel falls in love with.  Rapunzel, who can read people surprisingly well for having no social contact her entire life, aptly notes, “I like Eugene better.”  A great way to get us, as an audience, to like Eugene better is to make Flynn a bit of an idiot.

Alright, but it’s not like Rapunzel and Ariel are the same character or anything… right?

Well… they both have the same initial motivations.  Both want to escape an environment that they feel is trapping them.  In Rapunzel’s case, it’s an actual imprisonment.  For Ariel, it’s just wanderlust.  Both of them are naive about the worlds they will go explore– Ariel tries to comb her hair with a fork, Rapunzel recoils from a rabbit.  Both of them find love in the middle of the movie (to contrast against, say, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White where the protagonist finds love early on).

The plots even follow the same basic order– In our introduction to Ariel and Rapunzel, we are shown about their fascination with the world they wish to explore. This fascination brings them into conflict with a parental figure, and they are both ordered to never go near that world.  Both will sneak away and go explore that world anyway, and in doing so, find love.  The parental figure in question will disapprove of said love, and attempt to forcibly separate the female lead from their love.  The female lead will find a way around this separation.  However, just at the moment when the pair is about to profess their undying adoration for each other, disaster strikes and drives the pair apart.  Both female leads have a revelation, and decide to fight for their love.  The films end in a climatic battle, where the leads defeat the villain that drove them apart, and live happily ever after.

Bam.  Two Disney movies in a paragraph.  That sucker reads like something out of TVTropes.  I could go into how Mother Gothel is an Ursula/King Triton mash up, but you get the idea.  These films are remarkably similar– however, they aren’t the same.  I’m not arguing that Disney’s just rehashing old classics for money (although, they could and we wouldn’t even notice because I saw a trailer for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day two days ago on YouTube).  I think that Tangled is a modern retelling of The Little Mermaid, and it’s the differences in the films can tell us a lot about the audiences that went to go see them.

Rapunzel is much more of a go-getter.  She doesn’t mess around with plucking flowers, or whining about how her mother is a horrible controlling monster.  She gets work done with a frying pan, tames a palace horse, and sings a band of murderers and thieves into working with each other.  She’s direct with her complaints, choosing to directly argue with Mother Gothel several times rather than bitching in her cave.  In the underground princess cocaine fighting ring, I put money on Rapunzel over Ariel.

Don’t google that.

Actually, both our leads in Tangled just feel older than the leads in The Little Mermaid.  Rapunzel doesn’t have the ‘school girl in love’ reaction to Flynn that Ariel has about Eric.  It’s not until the end of the film, when she’s sobbing over Eugene’s corpse that she says, “I love you.*”  Ariel is all over Eric within approximately three seconds of seeing him for the first time.

There is no pressure on Flynn to find love, unlike Eric, who has that old guy nagging him pretty constantly to find a wife.  Rapunzel is returning to the world she was born into, rather than leaving the one she was born into like Ariel.  Tangled still has that wonking great plot hole that is covered by shoddy writing (oh, you can remember an event from when you were a single year old.  I don’t believe you.) whereas, in The Little Mermaid seems to do a pretty spot on job with events following each other in a believable manner.

But, I’m just rambling right now.  I prefer Tangled because I think it treats love more maturely than The Little Mermaid, and as stated before, I’m not a fan of typical Disney love stories– and I think that’s the big difference.  Tangled is more focused on personal discovery, and love comes out of that discovery.  In The Little Mermaid, love is front and center, right from the get go.

I want to say that this parallels feminism things, but I’m probably wrong, so I won’t go there.  It does parallel the fact that people are getting married later and later though.  Funny how this came full circle.

Tune in next week as I talk about why I can’t figure out why I hate Atlantis!  (I lied: it’s plot is awful.)  But, more importantly, this text message exchange!

Lets Do This Thing
We’ve got a fairy tale picked out and we’re going to start script writing.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

*Actually, I might need to get a clarification on that.  I know she admits that Eugene was “her new dream”, and I’m pretty sure she chokes out an “I love you” over his corpse, but the caffeine does not seem to be with me today**.

**Goddamn, Disney is dark when you just talk about plot elements with no context.