Tag Archives: The Little Mermaid

Plot Twist, Mr. Frodo!

Here be spoilers for The Wolf Among Us.  Because I want to talk about the ending to season 1, and ya know, gotta talk about everything if you want to talk about the end.

Tally ho!

So, Telltale games (most famously known for The Walking Dead games) has done a series of point and click adventure games based on the Fables graphic novel/comic series.  I had read the first book of the series before playing The Wolf Among Us, based on the recommendation of a friend.  Anyway, the universe the game (and the comics.  And the novels.  And short stories. And, and, and…) takes place in is a 1980’s-esque New York in Fabletown.

For those of you not from New York, that isn’t actually a burrow.  In Fables, fairy tales have been forced out of their homelands and into our reality.  They live in a secret community called Fabletown, passing for humans through the use of magical glamours (and those of the community who can’t pass for human, live on an annex to Fabletown called The Farm.  Everyone hates the Farm).  It’s pretty hilarious to see one of the three little pigs take a smoke.

Anyway, you play as Bigby Wolf (you know him as the Big Bad Wolf), the sheriff of Fabletown, as he tries to keep the peace.  The plot is very solid, generally ending each episode on a great cliffhanger and keeping a rapid, snappy pace.  The entire setting is 1980’s noir, except with Mr. Toad and Ichabod Crane.  It’s fantastic.  The characters are twisted variants on the fables they come from, sorta kinda.  Snow White is nothing like the girl in the tale, but Beauty and the Beast are a painfully sappy, yet always bickering married couple you know that centuries of marriage would make them.

So, why did I bring this up at all?  Because plot twists, man.

The Wolf Among Us is a detective story, and as anything in the genre, it has a twisty bendy plot with Bigby slowly filling in the holes as he goes.  Most of the time, the twists are great– several come way out of left field (as in a ‘shit, wait what now?’ sense not a ‘pole vaulting the shark’ sense), and the explanation for the twist is usually also a twist.  Twists in twists in twists.  Good times.

The problem comes in at the very end of the game, after you’ve made your final big decision.  The big bad hath been vanquished, and there are only one real question left on the plot:
Why the hell where the Faith’s and Lily’s heads left on the doorstep to The Forrest?

Nerissa beckons Bigby over and we get the last bit of information– she was the one to leave the heads out for Bigby to find, so that he’d start investigating the murders, and eventually take down the Crooked Man.  And, one more twist, we find out that Nerissa lied at the mob hearing– she never actually heard the Crooked Man give the order, she just hated his guts.  She walks away, the player realizing that Nerissa was manipulating Bigby to strike back at the Crooked Man for killing her friends, bread-crumbing hints when leads got cold and generally doing everything she could to get her revenge.

It’s a great last twist, wrapping up the plot details while showing a side of a character we hadn’t seen before.  The problem is, it’s not the last little twist.

Nerissa leaves the overhang with the same parting words Faye gave Bigby at the start, “You’re not as bad as everyone says you are.”  This triggers a spurt of memory magic in Bigby, as he remembers pretty much every line he’s had with both Nerissa and Faith, and also the fact that we have a dangling plot thread in Faith’s body– the Dr. Swineheart had it last, but no one has checked up on his autopsy of it as other things took precedence.

The game never says it, but at this point it’s heavily implied that Faith and Nerissa were glamoured as each other at one point, and it’s one of them is walking away from you and the other is dead, and the one that’s alive is the same one that interacted with you at the start of the game.

Or, even more mindfucky, the Nerissa we’ve been interacting with _is_ Faith, and the little mermaid was never in this story.  The dead girl was a prop, glamoured to look like Faith and Faith then glamoured herself to look like Nerissa and has been leading you on ever since.

All of these things are over the top, and silly.  Mostly because it doesn’t matter.  So what if the girls played swapsies?  One of them is still dead via ribbon decapitation and the other is a master of deception.  We already knew that.

If this is just a cliffhanger (what did Bigby realize? OMG!!11!!!) to lead into the next game, it’s a silly one.  We have enough characters to use as introductory elements to any game– Snow, Beauty, Beast, King Cole, etc– we don’t need to add some extra layer to an already very complex and layered character.  Let Nerissa/Faith breathe, and go make someone else more complicated.

All in all, it takes a masterful ending (they could have even used that cool noir fade-to-black-esque trope with the damsel in distress walking away) and then tries to add one more twist as either a ‘gotcha’ or as a lead in, and it totally doesn’t need that.  The entire game is structured around episodes and seasons anyway, and there is still so much more of Fabletown to see (why does everyone hate the Farm?  Does it really suck that much?), we don’t need a breadcrumb to grab the next game.

So, you know, don’t do that.  I’m all for ambiguous endings, but if you want to play it that way, make the ambiguity very important to the narrative– Inception is a good modern example.

The other case is that we get this weird scene because we never do figure out what happened with Faith’s body.  If that’s why you’re writing something like this, then stop.  You don’t have to resolve every plot thread.  You can let some hang.   That’s ok.  Real life doesn’t give us nice, clean, perfect resolutions.  Let the minor stuff be ambiguous.  If it really becomes an issue for your fanbase, then you just found yourself a sequel.  Congrats.

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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.

Response: The First Few Minutes

Johnathan posted The First Few Minutes, and he brought up some excellent points. I was going to expand in the comments section, but my comment quickly spiraled out of control. So I made it my own post.

In cinema and screenwriting theory, there is a term for this: the First Ten Pages(or First Ten Minutes). This refers to the importance of the first pages/minutes of any movie. Producers use this rule as a way to quickly decide if a movie is producable/marketable. If the first ten pages/minutes attract their attention, then they read the whole script. Otherwise, it gets passed on. In advanced stages, marketers have noticed that the audience gives the filmmaker around 10 minutes before they decided if they’re going to change the channel/walk out on the movie or not.

And for reference, youtube audiences give videos 30 seconds to a minute.

Additionally, Blake Synder refers to this as “The Opening Image.” He says that the opening scene is the first “beat” of the movie. It establishes tone, mood, and scope. These are the moments that typically decide if your audience will watch or not.

When developing the story, it’s crucial to focus in on this beginning. Characters, tone, conflict, setting, all must be defined quickly. All great movies do this. All great books too.

In the world of publishing, it quite typical for agents or publishers to request the first 10-30 pages of a manuscript. They use it as a measure of the story as a whole. If it doesn’t start off good, chances are it won’t magically become good. Many books, readers know they’re going to like it from the first line.

Johnathan couldn’t remember the first line of several of his favorite books. I remember several of mine:

  • “There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” – To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (ok, this is actually my mom’s favorite.)
  • “Our story begins where countless stories have ended in the last 26 years: with an idiot … deciding it would be a good idea to go out and  poke a zombie with a stick.” – Feed by Mira Grant

Each of these lines set the tone, and adds intrigue to the book. The Graveyard Book is accompanied with a illustration of a two page black spread with a single hand holding a knife. It’s dark, scary, and full of potential. Is this a murderous knife? Is this a defensive knife? Is this a knife that’s going to make a sandwich? After reading that line, you immeadately have to turn the page. Of course, you learn that it’s a murderous knife, who’s killed a family. Yet, it’s target, a baby, has escaped.

Harper Lee’s classic, holds just as much intrigue, yet, has a completely different tone. You can instantly feel the Southern, youthful, feel of the book. This is a book documenting the events leading up to something moderately awful. The summer Jem broke his arm. Well, how does Jem (an unusual name) break his arm? We have to read the entire book to find out.

Feed opens with a bit of humor. This is a beginning that starts where most stories end. It’s narrator’s voice is quickly established, and we instantly know two things: it’s about zombies, and zombies have been around a generation. The tone and scope are instantly set, and damn, I need to know what happens when her brother pokes the zombie.

I totally gauge a book on how it opens, and I use that as my basis for choosing a book to read. Often, I read the first chapter to see if I’m interested, and only give a book about 50 pages before I decide if it’s for me or not.

I’m a little more lax on movies, because I’m more willing to commit to two hours than twelve. Though, I form my opinion of a movie in the first ten minutes. Much like a book, movies need a good opening too. There are several movies that spend way to long setting up. This is the End (which I watched this weekend) is one.

I only vaguely remember the opening image. I think it’s Seth Rogan meeting Jay Baruchel at an airport? I also remember thinking, what the hell is Seth Rogan doing just chilling at the baggage claim at LAX? I spent more time wondering about celebrity normal life than I did wondering what the hell was going on in the movie.

In fact, the entire first act,of the movie is nothing but set up. It doesn’t establish scope, or mood, or even what the hell the movie is about. It establishes the comedy tone and Seth Rogan and crew as characters. Though, like most Fanfiction, we the audience are already familiar with them, and therefore do not need huge amounts of backstory. The world doesn’t start ending until the end of Act 1. And for me, I’ve already lost interest. If I didn’t know this was an apocalypse movie, that would have surprise would have come out of nowhere. (Maybe, it’s because our inciting incident doesn’t have to be what closes Act 1.)

In contrast, Shoot ‘Em Up has one of the best opening scenes I’ve ever seen. In fact, spend the next minute in a half watching it:

In 1.5 minutes everything about this movie has been set. We know the tone from the opening two shoots (satirical and gritty). That intense CU followed by a sharp cut, then completely undermined by the carrot. Because, what bad ass eats veggies? We know our main character is a bit grungy, lives on the wrong side of town, takes the bus, is reluctant, but has a good heart. We know that he’s not involved with the conflict, but chooses to make himself involved because its the right thing to do. We see conflict: Pregnant lady is in trouble. Kinda a universal sign of good – pregnant women. We see our villains: truly evil, I mean, they’re gonna threaten a pregnant lady with a gun. The movie unabashedly sets itself up and carries itself throughout. In the first ten minutes, we have our inciting incident, a birthing scene, and an epic gun fight. The scope and tone are set. The mood is set. Our hero is defined, and he has a dilemma. Even with all this intense action and conflict, Act 1 clearly doesn’t end until the Hero fully dedicates himself to the baby about 30 minutes in.

First Impression Failures: Pocahontas

Why does the movie’s opening not linger? We start in England (scope fail) with our romantic interest (not our hero) followed by a boat ride establishing our secondary characters (John Smith saves Thomas, was there a point?). The tone is actually set rather darkly (someone almost dies), which is sorta indicative of the tone. However, the scope is totally absent. The romantic tone that perpetrates the majority of the movie is absent. Our Main Character is absent. So yeah, no wonder no one remembers it, because well, it really doesn’t set the story correctly.

Getting it Right: The Little Mermaid Does What Pocahontas Tried to Do.

We open with a chorus singing about “mermaids” on a boat with Prince Eric, which are renounced as “sailor tales.” Eric talks about how he is looking for someone, and he feels she’s just under his nose. Then very quickly (we spend like 1 minute with Eric), go below the ocean where we meet the mythical mermaids. We are introduced to 2 worlds very quickly (scope), as well as characterization of the two main characters. Eric wants something more (tone), and he isn’t stuff like Grim (character). Then we learn that Ariel is irresponsible and kinda the odd daughter out because she failed to show up for her coming out celebration. Tone is established quickly – magical adventure with a dash of romance. We know our characters, and we see their conflict. They are looking for each other, but they belong to separate worlds.

In generalization, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid open the same way. On a boat, with our Male MC, and a reveal of our Princess who is just a little odd. However, they are weighted differently. We are given a teaser of Eric, where John Smith is introduced as our protagonist. This is implied because we spend so much time with him (and he saves someone). In Pocahontas, we even get our bad guy before we learn of our hero. Our conflict between Smith and Radcliff is established before we even get to “the New World.” We don’t even get to our setting before some crazy, irrelevant stuff happens! Stuff that feels critical (someone almost dies), but it really isn’t.

Yet, in the Little Mermaid, we get straight to the point. We are not confused that Eric is our hero. We just know he exists. The minute time frame gives us just enough foundation to recognize him, but not associate him as our MC. It also function as a set up for in about fifteen minutes, Ariel is gonna be saving him. He’s already planted on a boat.

Not Quite Right: Frozen

Since a lot of our inspiration comes from Frozen, I kinda want to point out that Frozen sorta screws up here. Our opening image is the ice workers, cutting the ice, with some weird song.

While this image sets our tone: cold, and our setting: cold, we don’t really get anything else from it. Our scope isn’t really clear. In fact, the icemen don’t really serve any purpose, except they are where Christoff hails from. And Christoff is a secondary character. This is not his story. We spend 3 minutes of irrelevant mood setting. We don’t even get an idea of scope because, well, I’m not even sure where this scene is. Then, this later poses the odd question of why was Christoff raised by the damn trolls?

Thankfully, we jump right over to Elsa and Anna where we quickly learn about the two sisters, their bond, Elsa’s secret, and we establish the conflict between them. So, it sorta redeems itself. Wish the movie would have just started here…

Johnathan is completely on to something here. (Also, he gets total props for mention my favorite sci-fi show as a pointer.) Openings are important. They are the first impressions of a story, and we all know how strong those can be. And while they aren’t the key factor in something being good or not, it’s a key factor getting audience to watch in the first place.