Friday, December 7, 2012

The disney formula

I love formulas. My world revolves around devising the formulas that rule our world. The one place I do not like them, however, is in my stories and films. If I recognise the trope early on, and the storyteller does nothing to deviate from this well-worn path, is the moment I begin getting irritated.

Romantic Comedies almost never deviate. Let me see whether you recognise this: An attractive but unlucky in love female meets an attractive rogue whom she instantly hates while this rogue annoys and teases her. They somehow form a pact where they're forced to be in each other's company (usually to assist the heroine in her plight to attract the man she's got her sights on  and that is coincidentally less attractive and has at least one character flaw). They fail in their quest but realise they're in love with each other. The End.

Examples:
Did You Hear About the Morgans, What's Your Number?, For Richer Or Poorer, French Kiss, The Wedding Planner, The Bounty Hunter, Killers, He's Not That Into You, The Proposal, The Ugly Truth, The Dictator, Failure to Launch, Mr & Mrs Smith, 50 First Dates, How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, Maid in Manhattan ... and the list goes on

Horrible, because that's all I see. Sure, you can mix this up with different contrived scenes through the length of the story, but the trope still remains. Which brings me to Disney films. I hate them ... well, apart from the very few exceptions where the maniacal reigns are momentarily loosened and something less abortive is created. Anywho: I shall now divulge the Disney formula in all its gory.

The story revolves around an attractive young male/female from a less than ideal background. The protagonist gets together with one or two plucky side kicks which provide levity to the stale-as-toast personality of the main character that is as boring as ... well, something really, really boring. There is invariably some kind of rom-com partnership along the way (where the two of them inevitably fall in love) and there is almost always an adversary that needs to be defeated. Nearing the end of Act 2, there's always a lull where the main character needs to find themselves and loses hope ... before they discover the strength they need through the support of friends/family. Needless to say, cheesy morals abound, where believing in yourself, relying on your friends/family and following your heart is the true path to happiness etc. This gets bludgeoned into your head multiple times throughout the course of the story ... and the moralistic theme is always introduced early in the story so that the viewer knows exactly what kind of path the protagonist will take towards final redemption. The End.

Examples:
Dumbo, Bambi, Snow White, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, The Rocketeer, Aladdin,  Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, Treasure Planet, Tangled, Enchanted ... and the list goes on.

The by-the-numbers story telling and head-bangingly moralistic message makes watching Disney films an exercise in torture. 

please note the whitebread heroine and quirky sidekicks
I saw 'Brave' recently (against my will). A story that revolves around a spoiled child who does everything in her power to avoid responsibility. She has three younger siblings who help her avoid her Mother's ire through magic (and provides levity in the place of the boring main character). Hilarity ensues and she discovers that if she listens and respects her family's wishes, all will be well. She reconciles with her overbearing mother and learns her place (like a good little 1950's stay-at-home wife). Of course, there's an evil antagonist who adds drama/excitement to the mix. Ooooh ... way to break the formula, there.

I honestly don't want to dislike Disney films but there's no good reason that a multi-billion dollar company isn't able to make something fun, original and at least entertaining. Heck, they've had enough attempts. It's just that I want the formula to change. Please change the formula, Disney. Please.

Side note: I remember one of the producers (or something) discussing how they'd paid all this attention to imbuing the heroines' hair with personality. He seemed proud of that. There has to be something wrong with your priorities if you focus more effort towards injecting personality into her hair than into her character.