Tag Archives: Disney

Big Hero 6 is a lesson in emotive writing and in three-dimensional secondary characters.

Writing Lessons from Big Hero 6

This isn’t a review, but I’ll just say this: Big Hero 6 is awesome. Seriously, if you like animation, go see it. It’s better than Frozen.

Yeah. I said it.

You should also see it because, like all these Writing Lessons posts, there be spoilers ahead, matey.

Flesh Out Secondary Characters

My one gripe about Big Hero 6 is that some of the secondary characters are paper-thin.

Naturally not every character in a story can have the depth of the protagonist. Aunt Cass, Fred and Wasabi were purely supporting cast and therefore are characterised by quirks, foibles, and small nuggets of history, all introduced naturally without slowing down the story.

But Gogo and Honey? There was nothing to them. They were so forgettable I had to look up their names when I wrote this. Disney inherited the title ‘Big Hero 6’ from a Marvel comic book and it felt like Gogo and Honey were just there to make up the numbers.

The lesson here? Build them up or knock them down. Don’t keep a character for the sake of it.

Don’t Stop Hitting Them in the Feels

By Kenobi’s beard, no film has ever had me so close to tears than Big Hero 6. When Tadashi died I thought that was going to be the big emotional gut punch. But then were was another one, and another. And each one hit harder than the last. I had to clench my jaw by the end to stop bawling like a baby.

And I loved it.

They always tell you to touch the reader (emotionally, don’t get handsy). At times it almost felt like Big Hero 6 touched me too much, but I loved it for that. If you don’t move the reader, they won’t care. Don’t be afraid to make them cry.

Don’t Preach Your Theme

Big Hero 6 is all about loss and how to cope with it. Like many who have suffered a loss, Hiro seeks an external force to blame and he wants to make that force pay. The film’s message is simple: revenge isn’t a curative for loss. But no-one says that. No wise old man or caring aunt or cute sidekick tells Hiro this. Instead the audience sees it for themselves: when Hiro abandons his quest for revenge, he solves the problem of loss, almost literally, when he saves Abigail Callaghan.

Nothing switches off a reader like a soapbox. It’s okay to have a message, but make it one readers can figure out and think about on their own. If the reader feels they have to agree with you to read the book, they might not do either.

Did I learn these lessons when I wrote my debut novel? Find out for yourself by downloading a free copy today!

7 Wishes for Star Wars Episode VII

I think the Internet has been having a constant nerdgasm since Disney announced they were buying Lucasfilm and making a new Star Wars film. I can’t blame it, I’m right there too. I’ve been following the gossip and rumours and speculation with as much anticipation as I had in the run-up to The Phantom Menace.

I know. I never learn.

That said, I’m cautiously optimistic about the news. After all, Disney bought Marvel and the Avengers was my favourite film of the year. I reckon we’re in for a treat as long as Disney do seven things:

1. Bring back the original cast

Let’s face it, when we go to a sequel we want to see the characters we saw last time. We don’t want a new cast. So bring back Luke, Leia and Han. Give us a Luke still struggling with the change from Jedi Knight Errant to Jedi Master. Give us Leia crushed under bureaucracy and fighting to make sure her rebellion doesn’t dissolve into political nonsense. And give us a Han lost and fearing irrelevancy, not sure what to do on the right side of the law. Fertile ground for passing the torch into our new heroes!

2. Don’t rehash the originals

If you’ve not seen Prometheus, look away now because I’m about to spoil it. Seriously.

Prometheus is just a rehash of Alien. You’ve got the eggs/vases, facehuggers/oil snakes, xenomorphs and crazy robots ad nauseum. And while it may have been a financial success, it made for a poor film.

In the same vein, don’t use Luke as an Obi-Wan character only to kill him halfway through the film. Don’t have another superweapon. Don’t have the hero be a Jedi discovering his heritage. No secret family members. No Tatooine; we’ve seen enough of it. It’s a big galaxy with plenty of opportunity so let’s make the most of it.

And no incestuous kisses. Just no.

3. Tell the saga of the Skywalker family

This is how Lucas often described the story of Star Wars in the early days and I think it’s paramount to stick to this vision. The Prequel trilogy followed Anakin. The Original trilogy followed Luke. The Sequel trilogy should follow Luke’s kid. Retaining the Skywalker link will help keep the story cohesive despite the gap between films.

4. Make use of those Force ghosts

Speaking of links, get Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor and Frank Oz back and helping out from beyond the grave. Skywalker Jr. could probably do with their help. Plus there’s a lot of narrative potential in having those three watching their successors rebuild the universe they remember (and helped destroy).

5. Lay off the CGI

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a beautiful, sumptuous visual feast. And so much of it was built in real life. The Prequel trilogy, on the other hand, is already showing its age.

Build some sets for crying out loud.

6. Don’t resurrect the Sith

The Sith have been the villains for six films now and digging up some more will feel a little tired. Timothy Zahn proved you could create a great Star Wars story without Sith villains. His trilogy of books set after Return of the Jedi had Grand Admiral Thrawn as the foe; no Force, no lightsabers, but a brilliant foe nonetheless. Plus we’ve never actually seen what the hell a Jedi does when there isn’t a Sith to whale on.

7. Have more female characters

This one is a bit of a lie because I’d actually like to see Miss Skywalker Jr. but I know that won’t happen. But both trilogies have been replete with males and only one female. Let’s change that. If the lead has to be male (which the marketing department will demand) at least surround him with a variety of female characters (rather than the stock royalty with funny hair in silly clothes). And maybe a female Jedi or two might be nice for a change?

So those are my seven wishes and I think they could produce an excellent film. What do you think? Am I strong with the Force or bantha pudu? What would you like to see from Episode VII? Let me know in the comments.

And may the Force be with you.

Brave’s Lessons: Does Fiction Have to Teach?

Brave is the first original Pixar film released since the company was folded into Disney and, to be honest, it shows. Don’t get me wrong, when Disney is doing what it does best I love it so hard I could pop. But Disney is Disney and Pixar is Pixar. Brave is Disney. This is my biggest criticism of the film, though I read a more interesting one the other day: Brave isn’t offering a good enough female role model. But does fiction have a duty to instruct?

At one point Brave itself tells us that “Legends are lessons. They ring with truth.” And certainly stories can be said to teach. When a hero is kind and noble and generous we can say that his story teaches us to be kind and noble and generous. In fact I believe it is the reverse, that legends ring with truth because they reflect what we already know to be true: heroes are heroic and villains villainous, love conquers all and so on. But let’s say we do want to get across a message. Should the way the story is written be changed to accommodate it?

One of my favourite Pixar films is WALL-E, but I do have a major gripe with it: its message. By the end I felt whacked over the head by its constant insistence that consumerism is bad, that we need to have more care for ourselves and for our world. Not a bad message but I felt the film spent too much time on a soapbox and not enough on entertainment.

Because that’s the primary purpose of fiction, isn’t it? To entertain. After all, none of us go to the cinema for an etiquette lesson. We go to be entertained. Sure, entertainment can have varying levels of depth, but if it’s not entertaining on any level then it doesn’t matter how deep it is. Brave has a lot to say on duty and family, but if it hadn’t had laughs and excitement who’d have been watching to hear it?

All we can legitimately demand from our fiction is that it entertain. Everything else is frosting.

(And I didn’t think Merida was too bad a role model anyway.)

But what do you think? Let me know in the comments. Does fiction have a duty to teach us how to act, behave and generally be?