Tuesday, September 11, 2007

By What Criteria Do We Judge Quality?






"Quality"

What is this mysterious beast that everyone knows when they see it but few ever bother to define? People toss the word around maybe even more than they toss around another mystical term: "Story".

I think Quality means very different things to different groups of people and therefore is not a very useful term.

If you were to write a meaningful review of an animated film, it would be more useful to define what specific elements you are judging that add up to your definition of quality.




DIFFERENT HUMAN TYPES DEFINE QUALITY BY DIFFERENT CRITERIA

A modern feature animation producer's idea of quality would probably be different than an animated film critic's definition, although with some overlap.
Both those general types of people represent many others like themselves. Quality = amount of details. Sure, you say everyone is different and an individual, but I'll say probably not. Most people fall into groups. Within each group there might be some subtle variances that to others in the group seem large, but to the outsider the differences are negligible.


ANIMATION CRITIC CRITERIA

Professional critics who specialize in animation have a certain general set of criteria in common. When they watch a feature, they tend to look for:

How It Compares To Disney

Disney created the template that we still -70 years later- unquestioningly follow. The rules he set for what makes quality animation are completely different than what makes quality in other mediums and we have been chained to this ever since.

Many animation critics do not realize how insiduously they have been brainwashed by Disney's rules.

Story

No one knows what story is anyway, but everyone holds it in high regard. Animated features have completely formulaic predictable stories, yet critics still manage to find ways to talk about them, because story in a writer's mind means "words" and words are easier to write about than pictures, acting, cutting or pure entertainment value.

Dramatic

Are there live action style sequences in it? That's worth a few points because live action is inherently superior to mere cartoons.

Kitschy Cuteness
This style of cute definitely flips a switch on animation critics. It reminds them of when they were 3 and first saw Snow White.

Pathos

Somewhere burned in our genetic memory is the knowledge that cartoons are supposed to be funny and make you feel good. Everyone instinctively knows it, but funny doesn't win awards or garner a lot of serious respect.

Disney figured this out long ago and came up with the idea to do the opposite of what cartoons are good at. Instead of making us happy (laughing equals good feelings) he decided to make us miserable and figured out ingenious ways to make us cry. "Hey fellas, let's shoot the character's Mom! That'll destroy everyone in the theatre!"

The critics eat this stuff up. I think they like the surprise that a cartoon can be something other than what cartoons are good at, even though it's no longer a surprise. It would be a surprise today if a cartoon dared to be a cartoon again.

Animation producers prey on the critics' auto-reactions to fake pathos and have devised a handful of filmic tricks that push the cry button.

Did It Give Me Something To Talk About That Will Make Me Feel Smart?

Of course a critic's trade is to overanalyze everything and try to find "meaning" in their entertainment. If they just said "I like it. It made me cry and had lots of action and pop-culture references!" maybe no one would take them seriously - although that would be very useful to the audience.

DISCLAIMER: Of course I'm generalizing and not every critic fits the generalization exactly.

Leonard Maltin is a big exception. He writes about what he feels naturally when he watches entertainment. In clear English with no circumlocutions. He was one of the first brave souls to champion pure entertainment like The Fleischers, The Three Stooges, Bob Clampett and other geniuses who traditionally had been snubbed by the critics. We owe him a lot.



YOUR DAD'S DEFINITION OF QUALITY (NON ARTIST ANIMATION PRODUCERS)

People who aren't actually interested in art (like most animation producers) don't judge the quality of something by its aesthetic parts.

Is this the ugliest character design ever? Do you know of anything that can compete?


They have no choice but to judge the art by how complicated or "real" it looks. Real to the untrained eye. I've used the analogy of your Dad choosing a painting to hang over the couch and deciding by counting how many individual leaves the artist painted in the trees.

Not by how well composed the scene is, not by the flair of the brushtrokes, not by the sensitive blending of the intricate colors. Not by the feelings it evokes.
"GIMME LOTS OF LEAVES AND MORE CLOUDS! MAKE SURE THE LEAVES ARE GREEN! AND I WANT A BLUE SKY!" For the most part, feature animation producers are like your Dad.


Details- Quantity - Moles, Pubes and Pores Count - Moles per Square Inch
Pocahontas consults the wisdom of the magical pussy-tree, complete with every fold and crevice.

Ugly Non-cartoony Tasteless Design
Animation producers hate appealing cartoony characters. They think simple, well-balanced shapes are immature and cheap looking. Dic really was cheap, but felt guilty about it and they didn't want the audience to think it so they designed their characters too lumpy and detailed.



Now, big budget feature companies can put real money into their Dic -inspired designs and make the characters uglier than was ever thought possible.



Hard To Do

If it's really hard to do and all the animators and assistants want to kill themselves, then you know you're getting your money's worth.

Crowds
Crowds are very hard to do and therefore in great demand from quality animation producers.

It doesn't matter if each character in the crowd is god-awful ugly, because there are so many that you probably won't have time to notice.
Spectacle
Is It More Expensive Than The Competition?

How trendy is it?

Today's trend is to have pop-culture references everywhere and to have everyone have 'tude, and to have the women be smarter and tougher than the men.

I've never understood trend-think but that's the executives' stock and trade. They don't have artistic taste or story instinct. They only have ugly details and trends as their creative tools.


MY CRITERIA OF QUALITY

Well, this whole blog is dedicated to my own view of what makes quality, but I thought I'd just spell it out.

There is no one ingredient that makes "quality" for me. I like a lot of different things. Mainly if something grabs me, then I like it. It's afterwards that I try to analyze why I liked it, mainly so I can learn and improve my own work.

You don't have to have every possible good ingredient in a work of entertainment for me to consider it "quality". Mainly it has to be fun. I can break down fun into separate qualities:

Charismatic Fun Characters

Cartoony

Humanity

Creativity

Skill

Fun

Funny

Did it Blow My Mind

I borrowed this phrase from Eddie, because it's so right.

Does It Swing?

Hmmm, this is going to take forever to illustrate and describe, so I'll leave my explanation till tomorrow...

47 comments:

Paul said...

Love the post, John, thanks! I especially like the comment - "The women are smarter and tougher than the men." Why is this so pervasive in entertainment? I thought individuals were smart, stupid, tough, or weak, not entire genders.

Tyler said...

The literary critic Monroe C. Beardsley (who I believe is still alive-and-writing at 98 years old or so) wrote an article in the 60s called "The Classification of Critical Reason." The article talks about how people judge art.

He proposes that there are essentially three basic criteria for critical reasoning, which include:

1. Unity
2. Complexity
3. Intensity or regional quality

I think these can be expanded into many of the criteria you outline:

1. Unity = Cartoony, "does it swing?"
2. Complexity = Skill, Creativity
3. Intensity = Charisma, Humanity, "Did it blow my mind?"

You talk a lot about style as well, which reminds me of another article by Meyer Schapiro, appropriately titled "Style." I find that when I generally engage in debates with other artists or cartoonists on the merits of various artworks (most recently and frequently, Japanese versus American animation) they generally use style as a fallback. Allegedly, Japanese have a more "immersive" style due to an increased level of detail. I usually counter with "the root of animation is 'animar,' which means 'to impart life,' and American cartoons are much more adept at expessing life."

Schapiro's article points out a possible source of this style-focused method of critical thinking. Art historians and art critics, those who publicize and potentially popularize various forms, regard style as an essential object of investigation: they NEED it to critique something.

Perhaps more analytically-minded people find the floaty qualities of emotion, acting and expression too unpredictable and instead settle for the easier-to-nail-down aspects of the work such as style and realism?

More than Jake said...

Hi John,
Quality is probably one of the hardest things to define, especially with animated features that look just plain fancy with no real substance behind them. They just find new ways to tell the same old story. As a kid, I hated Loony Toons just because they were old. Now I'm yelling at the television to give me back those amazing episodes of Bugs playing a prank on some unsuspecting schmuck. The worst thing I've ever seen was some old 70's cartoon called The Robotic Stooges...it was possibly the worst thing ever to be on the face of this earth. And now it's just as bad, if not worse. I hope someday they'll be a group of people (maybe me included) to bring the funny stuff back.
Jake

Pat McMicheal said...

John, in this post, you wrote, that for some "Quality = amount of details".
I always think of sketches I've seen by Frank Frazetta like a figure of a woman drawn with a SINGLE un-broken pen line! AMAZING to me how much quality was in that single stroke!

Man, That Star-Wars Still frame is the worst thing I've ever seen!

pappy d said...

Great post, John! I love when you tackle big topics like this one.

Non-artist producers believe in quality. They just have a crude grasp of what that means.

The crudest quality is quantity. You can easily compare it, multiply & divide it, make pie charts, . Even computers understand it. "How much?" is the most important quality of money itself.

If someone shows you some beautiful artwork, you like it. Words may try to cage your experience of the art, but even if you succeed, it's only as if you explained a joke to someone. You have dissected a frog for somebody & his understanding of the frog is improved, but there's an important quality of a frog that's been lost in the process.

To a businessman, this quality is negligible. You can't do anything with it. He won't have any hard figures on how much fun the picture was until all the box office is in. To him, it seems mystical, even soft-headed.

On the other hand, if we know a candidate brought 22 pieces in his portfolio with a combined surface area of 33.8 sq. ft.,now we have something we can work with.


Story. story, story! You know what I hate most about animated cartoons?
Story.

Here's an example of the self-serving crap we've always had to put up with from writers:

"In the beginning, was the Word."

PCUnfunny said...

>>Cartoony

Humanity

Creativity

Skill

Fun

Funny

Did it Blow My Mind

I borrowed this phrase from Eddie, because it's so right.

Does It Swing?<<


John you dolt ! By judging animated films with this criteria, you're actually measuring it's entertainment value ! That's a big "no no" in critizing. Now go to your room and think about what you did mister !

Callum said...

The anticipation is killing me regarding what "Does it swing" could allude to...

Peggy said...

One thing that I always have to remind myself, when tempted to grumble about another forgettable feature cartoon full of references to a pop culture I don't connect with and find vaguely insulting: How much is left when you take a classic cartoon and strip all the pop culture out?

What's left after you cut the pop culture out of Coal Black? (Well, nothing at all, since it's a direct parody of Disney's Snow White.) What's left when you take all the pop culture one-liners out of Rocky and Bullwinkle? What's Book Revue without Daffy's over-the-top Danny Kaye impression?

Old Disney stuff, that fares better. Getting a chamber pot stuck on your head is pretty timeless. It's dated now that indoor plumbing's ubiquitous in America, but it fares a lot better than a caricature of the signature line of 1943's It Girl, totally forgotten except for what's now a completely surrealistic moment in a cartoon.

I have some vague thoughts towards your argument against the values 'critics' look for but I don't feel up to putting them into words right now - I suspect it could really be enough for a post in and of itself. (At least it feels like you're putting down the values they look for, given some of your word choices.)

Eric Carl said...

Ha, I actually really like that Star Wars still, but only in that "it's so bad it's good" way. It kind of has its own sort of rotten accidental character to it.

John, you talk about animation and fun to a great extent, and I wonder, do you see a use for animation where the focus isn't specifically fun? Is there a specific reason someone should absolutely stay away from animation if they want to tell, for example, a depressing, yet touching story?

It sounds like you bring up the fun aspect mainly because animation is a medium best suited for it, while more serious elements may be better suited to live action.

JohnK said...

>>and I wonder, do you see a use for animation where the focus isn't specifically fun? Is there a specific reason someone should absolutely stay away from animation if they want to tell, for example, a depressing, yet touching story?<<


I'm depressed by every animated feature that comes out. I'm ready for fun again.

akira said...

love your list!.. does night of the hunter swing?..

trying to think of other good qualities to look for:
purity, freshness, economy, resourcefullness... usually the more money that is put into these things the lesser those qualities become it seems.

Marc Hudgins said...

Have you ever read Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? the protagonist goes mad trying to dissect "quality".

For the Cliffnotes, Wikipedia has an entry describing Pirsig's definition of Quality: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirsig%27s_metaphysics_of_quality

That aside aside, you're spot on John!

Rodrigo said...

Here, here. Very provoking points.

CG films in particular are so preoccupied with being safe today. I hope we'll one day see a CG film that has humor that isn't partonizing.

So . . .

feature . . . length . . . R&S ???

toon_monkey said...

oh frickin' hell....the shrek girl again!!! anyone remember corky's girlfriend on that early '90s show 'life goes on'? anyways... the incredibles is about a thousand times better than all of the other CG movies combined--- and no moles or skin tags.... plus, it's fun and cartoony without all that pop culture spoofery. however you feel about modern animated movies, john, it's disonest to put 'the incredibles' in the same league as the awful fish movie or the abu ghraib stress position known as shrek.

JohnK said...

How is it dishonest? It represents what critics like.

Gabriel said...

how does your theory apply to 'retard art'? By that i mean stuff that looks ugly in a different way, like they're done by children or chimps? Like Jackson Pollock, or some of Norman McLaren's work (his bad stuff, i mean)?

Dan! said...

"The women are smarter and tougher than the men."

-That's why I like I Love Lucy. I don't see why the wife can't be the dumb one. Guess it's just not trendy.

toon_monkey said...

>>How is it dishonest? It represents what critics like.<<

not intentionally--like the other cg crapola you listed...there's a big difference between 'the incredibles' and the shreks of the world in that 'the incredibles' was artist/director driven, while the others are studio executive driven---even the other non-incredibles pixar movies...that fish pixar movie makes me want to drain the oceans.... in other words---it's dishonest to list it in this post because your obvious intention was to unfairly lump it in with crap like shrek and the mole people, just because critics just happened to like both.... and the characters from 'the incredibles' are detailed???? no way...they're cartoony and streamlined....

JohnK said...

you love to put words in my mouth.

You should read the posts more carefully before you argue with them.

Kenan said...

Not sure if I agree with the part about killing off the main character's mom being a cop out.

I also disagree with the statement that cartoons should always be funny and always be pure entertainment.

However, I do agree that there's a real lack of variety in today's cartoons, and Disney's influence certainly has a lot to do with it. I think that there needs to be a market for more wacky, pure entertainment cartoons that both the general public and the dedicated artist can marvel at.

Unfortunately, computer graphics have taken the place of beautiful animation in providing that "wow" factor.

Home grown American style animation is pretty much gone. It's great to come here and see it once and a while, in all of it's glory.

JohnK said...

>>how does your theory apply to 'retard art'? By that i mean stuff that looks ugly in a different way, like they're done by children or chimps? <<

That's a whole other set of quality criteria. Artsy fartsy quality. Stuff that's amateurish on purpose and therefore deep and anti-establishment.

JohnK said...

>>I also disagree with the statement that cartoons should always be funny and always be pure entertainment. <<

Did you find that statement here?

Adam said...

After reading your post I immediately thought of a book I read recently called 'Godel, Escher, Bach' and there was a chapter in the book about determining the quality of a work of art objectively.

The author made up this scenario: humans fire a rocket into outerspace. Aboard the rocket is a recording of a piece by Bach and the other is a recording of a piece by a modern composer like John Cage. The rocket lands on an alien planet. The aliens find the recordings and somehow learn to play them back. The author then asks which of the recordings do you think the aliens would find more interesting.

Now this situation makes huge assumptions and is sorta silly, but when I read it I intuitively thought that they would probably prefer the Bach recording. Then I tried to work out why that was, and the author does too.

The author makes the argument that the Bach recording would be preferred by the aliens because it contains more information in itself. The melodies and harmonies are unified by some musical principal.

To appreciate music by John Cage ( not that I do ) you have to know a bit about the history of Western Music, you need to know what was going on in the world at the time, and you have to know the recent technological innovations in sound production. Basically you need to know all this stuff outside of the piece of music itself.

Basically, Bach is a hamburger, and John Cage is mustard. John Cage expects you to bring a hamburger with you, because you can't enjoy him without it.

So I took this to mean that quality works of art are ones that can stand by themselves. Expectations are not put on the viewer to fill in the huge gaps the artist has left.

So enough about music, and aliens and all that. If we take it back to cartoons. I can watch 'Falling Hare' and know nothing about WWII, and still enjoy it, because it has more substance than just topical gags about gas rationing cards, it has those but they're just mustard on an already meaty burger of a cartoon.

And its a meaty burger of a cartoon because its connected to reality. The good kind of reality. The kind of reality that every little kid experiences before their brains are rotted by public schools, Life cereal, and children's programming.

Because y'know I hate little weasely gremlin type people that get the better of me just like Bugs does. I've seen things twist up and move like Bugs does when he takes the backswing of his hammer before hitting the bomb, not a rabbit of course but I played with rope, and tree branches, and vines I could understand it. This makes it very lively, because while things happen in that cartoon that can't happen physically, everything is still rooted somehow in reality. It's whole. It's fun and it stands up on its own It's quality.

The 'bad' examples in this post don't have this quality. They aren't rooted in reality they're rooted in cliche, references to works of art better than themselves, and oversimplified ways of viewing the world.

Ewan said...

Why is the Smart Women concept so pervasive in the media nowadays? For one, no company wants to look like their sexual attitudes have just crawled out the 80's (think dumb shrieking blonde on action hero's arm).

Another reason is simple, someone was looking for new ideas and one day came up with an idea for a 'Strong' female lead, people like it. Then unfortunately the executives notice and decide "That's what the public wants to see, more Ripleys" and we get stuck with another stereotype for another 10 years.

Roo said...

As the oldest of 9 siblings ive been dragged to a fair amount of so called family films their all trying to be exactly like shrek and get more and more obnoxious everytime. not only is it ugly but the super intense movement and and the way they talk makes me sick to my stomach its not cute or funny, the funny they rely on is the interchangeable jokes and popculture references and of coarse the tweekin out hyper posing A D D animal character whos the only one that makes the kids laugh. other than that i dont see why they waste the time or money, why not put on a puppet show at least that wouldnt cause epileptic fits.

Dan DeHaan said...

Maybe I didn't search the archives long enough but I would love to see a post dedicated to links/examples of See Gee Eye animation that you feel could be used as "criteria for quality". I've only noticed examples that fall in either the luke warm or utter crap categories....mostly utter crap.

NateBear said...

I just noticed those crown scenes from Prince of Egypt bear resemblance to pre-modern biblical paintings that depict everyone and their mom watching jesus sip tea. http://maryourmother.net/Calvary.jpeg Those paintings were challenging enough for great masters to compose. Most of those STILL IMAGES that took MONTHS TO COMPLETE by the greatest artist of all time end up looking crowded and stiff for the most part. How the hell should we expect less talented artists to compose equally crowded scenes that move on top of that and still make it appealing?

That also reminds me how the rich and powerful have always tried to control artists. This pope http://www.museumnetwork.com/entertainment/_asides/doria_pamphili/images/doria_pamphili_2_bernini_tn.jpg hated Bernini but hired him several times for busts simply because everyone considered him a genius. That's the power of popular support. Imagine if Moneybags Spielberg were to hire John simply because everyone outside of Hollywood demanded quality cartoons. But then in this world the rich and powerful have evolved much more effective mechanisms for undermining and manipulating popular opinion. Hence, Shrek and the 2004 election.

PCUnfunny said...

>>Imagine if Moneybags Spielberg were to hire John simply because everyone outside of Hollywood demanded quality cartoons.<<

He would probably hire John to do some half ass Chuck Jones/ half ass Tex Avery film.

Tim said...

Technology seems to be what impresses a lot of people. Disney movies like the Lion King are certainly impressive to me and many others due to their amazingly fluid animation and lush colors, but from an artistic perspective they're utterly generic. Same goes for CGI flicks - people are amazed at how cool the technology is, and artistic presentation takes a backseat.

Great cartoons don't need a huge budget to be awesome, but I can't help but wonder what a "real" cartoon would be like with a budget the size of a Pixar film - one that combines technology (not necessarily CGI characters) with what makes a cartoon a good cartoon. Maybe it would open the eyes of people like "dad".

Gabriel said...

hey adam, i enjoyed your comment a lot. I'll look for the book.

Dirtyoldtoon said...

What's with all the Shrek shyte? For my money Sharktale or Sharkslayer or whatever it was called was the best DW movie ever.

Stephen Worth said...

You left out the super-smooth "million inbetweens" theory of "quality".

See ya
Steve

Mr. Semaj said...

Is this [donkey] the ugliest character design ever? Do you know of anything that can compete?

If we're just talking feature film cartoons, you may want to disregard any mentions of Klasky-Csupo's projects circa 1998.

See, stuff like Shrek is supposed to be funny, since that particular film is blatantly anti-Disney. But guess what? By repeating it over and over again, the novelty wore off ages ago, and Shrek has committed the same crime that they accuse Disney of in their films. Now you're hoping not to want to kill yourself when they come out with Shrek XVII: Donkey's Monologue.

Pixar seems to best fit the description of "fun" animated features. There was a recent article where Brad Bird expresses his non-concern for Ratatouille's box office "underperformance" that some critics and investors have supposedly been picking at.
I'll take that non-conformist frame of thought anyday over an annoying, unfunny film that makes trillions, or one that copies the competition and gets squat.

Pedro Vargas said...

Very cool, John! Thank you! These are some of the most insightful posts I've seen in this blog. People seriously need to engrave this sort of information into their minds. It's about what you feel when you do something that means a lot to you. Just have fun with you're own work and that's it! Never think about what other people do or how this person could've done a certain drawing so I can do it just like him. Fuck that! Just go with your own flow is what I say! Have fun with what you do and make sure you do it in a way that makes sense for you and everybody rather than whining like a little bitch!

Haha Okay that came out a little rough in the end there, but dammit it's true! To be able to want to learn so much is something everyone should take advantage of. No one should limit themselves to what they're truly feeling!

Fear's a goddamn bitch!

Mad Max Winston said...

Really good post! Now all you gotta do is make a feature length animation in this screwed up system... is it possible? Isn't it weird that the Shrek films are the highest grossing animated films of all time? (I think I read that in Guiness World Records)

Marc K said...

"Shrek XVII: Donkey's Monologue."

Oh, I love monologues. :D

Ari said...

ha, magical pussy tree

miss 3awashi thani said...

Humanity

Creativity

Skill

Fun

Funny

Did it Blow My Mind

>>>
now adays i just want funny i miss it and i mean real funny not this sitcom stuff
the only curruntly running cartoon shows i watch right now are camp lazlo and ed,edd,n;eddy i have a soft spot for cartoon that arent afraid to detach a character's head in the heat of the moment

David said...

"Is this the ugliest character design ever? Do you know of anything that can compete?"

Yes. Everything in A SHARK'S TALE, especially that damn Scorsese-fish.

Horrible.

Dan said...

Your criterion "Does it swing?" reminds me of the story about a reporter asking the great Louis Armstrong what swing was, and getting the reply "Man, if you gotta ask, you'll never know!"

Jason Miskimins said...

I love your comment about people confusing "amount of details" with QUALITY.

Many people these days don't have an appreciation for a simple design made from interesting shapes that go together.

These types of simplified designs are often harder to create than "detailed" designs because the shapes have to be so perfect...you can't hide your poor design under a bunch of detailed hair and moles.

Adele K Thomas said...

What an educational and entertaining post...I HATE DONKEY, he is ugly...the merchandise around those movies is rediculous! No one buys the stuff because the characters are so cheap looking, no quality in character or design. I mean, im not saying my stuff is better, i just know what I like...did you see the photo I sent you John? With the stuuupid Shrek blow up doll...disgusting! hehehe, and I tagged Shrek as you, because you love him so much ;)

Tim said...

What's really sad is that the Pocahontas picture is the best of the bunch you posted. About the only good thing good about the movie was some alright background color designs (certainly better than The Lion King's).

I'd say Donkey is the ugliest design I've seen in a cartoon in ages, but he's supposed to be ugly. Dreamworks themselves have done far worse. Remember Shark Tale?

http://www.sacticket.com/static/movies/news/images/250x259_sharktale.jpg

cartoon lad said...

>>Today's trend is to have pop-culture references everywhere and to have everyone have 'tude, and to have the women be smarter and tougher than the men.<<


Good call!
I have to say im really sick of the same overtly feminist theme EVERYWHERE in ALL forms of entertainment these days.Even guys are putting over the top feminist "morals" in movies,tv shows, etc.The theme is like yourve mentioned:

"Guys are ALL immoral pathetic idiots and ALL women are smart,graceful,powerful,good,savvy,individuals that always get what they want"

J Marc said...

"No one knows what story is anyway..."

Let me have a bash at a definition of 'story' for you:

It is a sequence of events beginning at a certain point and ending at a later point. The events are usually causally related, ie., one event causes a subsequent event and so on. The story is driven by want or desire. In other words, a character in a story must want something or other, and then set about getting it.

When I was a whelp at university, one lecturer plotted it out for us. Every 'story' more or less follows these steps, which I will illustrate with one of your current loathes:

1. Initial equiliberium. The set up, if you will. Remy is a rat living in Paris with dreams of becoming a chef. He wants to be a chef. But he can't, because he's a filthy, plague-ridden, flea-infested rat. Everything is normal, until...

2. Complication. Something happens to mess up the balance of the world. Unable to control his unreasonable desire to be a chef, Remy sneaks into the kitchen and cooks, but is caught. The complication leads to...

3. Conflict. Gay scowly head chef hates rats and wants to dumb down French cuisine to make megabucks. (Or mega euros.) Orange-haired dork can't cook but uses Remy as a hidden 'ghost chef' to impress gourmands and sassy dark-haired intelligent girl alike. Conflict + hilarity ensues. The conflict carries on, until...

4. Resolution. I haven't seen Ratatouille, but I am guessing the gay scowly guy gets his hilarious comeuppance, and the orange-haired dork realises he can't go on living a lie. And from the resloution, we get...

5. New equiliberium. Peace and normality returns, but the landscape is a little different from the initial equiliberium. Everything is also nicely set up for the sequel: Ratatouille 2! (Where, we hope, the rats will turn on the humans and open a restaurant catering to cashed-up flesh-eating alien monsters, until Remy, whose heart is bigger than his head, realises...)

And there you go. My only hope is that those of you reading this will not be too influenced by its seductive, symmetrical charms. The idea of 'story' -- events causing events on a timeline, is appealing, because our own lives pretty much follow timelines too. Though as John K points out, story is often unecessary to make us laugh.

pappy d said...

Another way to put it:


once upon a time there was (somebody)...

every day he...

'til one day...

because of this...

because of THIS...

'til finally...

ever since...

A story doesn't have to follow this sequence in time. You can break it up & reconfigure it.

fandumb said...

There's nothing wrong with spectacle as long as it's within a good story and doesn't patronise, like your example from 'The Prince of Egypt'.