The Disney Formula
Today I'm spending the entire at at Disneyland (and California Adventure), so it only seemed right that tie the blog for the day into that theme. Now, when I think about Disney, there are many things that come to mind. Magic. Happy endings. Musicals. Heck, even lately the idea of subverting old, ingrained tropes. But I think today I'll talk a little about wonder.
Thinking back on my childhood, the name Disney always inspired this sense of awe. I rarely, if ever, connected it with the man, because the concept of Disney was beyond that. It was more than a person, it was this idea.
When I watched a Disney movie, I felt wonder. I was transported into beautiful, technicolor dream full of rotoscoped awe. The care and detail put into the worlds was something that even young me could notice and appreciate.
So what was it? What did Disney do (and still manages to do from time to time) that evokes that sense of wonder? How can I isolate, identify, and incorporate that technique? I'm not going to lie to you and say that I have all the answers, say that I've distilled the Disney formula down to an easy to implement bite. If I had, I'd be a billionaire. Plenty of companies have tried and failed to duplicate what Disney does when it's doing it's best Disney.
But maybe we can point to a couple of things and see if they turn anything up. For one, there's detail. You can watch the same Disney movie a hundred times and come up with new details you didn't notice each time. They go to insane lengths on some of their projects to make sure that you don't notice their work. That sounds counter intuitive, but when things don't belong, you notice. When things stick out and are unnatural, you pay attention. But when everything flows naturally and evenly, you focus on the story. You don't notice that they used actual rouge/blush to accent Snow White's cheeks. You don't notice the intricate details in Maui's tattoos. The world works, it feels natural, and that means you can focus on the narrative and let the wonder seep in.
I wonder then, no pun intended, if that can be replicated in my own work. If I have the details right, planned out in my head and introduce them as needed in a natural flow, will that open my reader to focus entirely on the fantasy while just accepting the reality?
And since something like this needs at least one more example, let's take one more peek into our magic mirrors and see what really inspired awe. For me (and my wife), it's that moment in most movies where take time to show off and give you a gorgeous scene. The poster scene. The scene that is replayed in future reels of classic movies. The ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. A Whole New World in Aladdin. Ariel looking up from her grotto as she lets the final words of Part of Your World slip sweetly from her lips. The detail, the music, the grandeur, and the wonder that these scenes inspire is a signature from Disney.
But how to create something like that in my own writing? Well, I did describe these as the "poster" moments, so then why not think of it in those terms? What's the scene in my book that I want people to think of when they mention it? What's the scene I want on the poster of the movie adaptation? What scene in the book really defines my story? That scene then, more than any other in the book, needs to be written the best. It needs to burn itself into the reader's mind in such a way that they can feel the heat in the air, hear the echoes of battle, taste the blood in their own mouth. They need to feel they're there with my Paladins.
Well, perhaps I didn't decipher the Disney code, but there are certainly things to learn just from appreciating the works. Disney, you are master story tellers, despite several bumps both politically and narratively over the years. But if you make me cry with Frozen II we will not be on speaking terms, mister.
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.