So when I mentioned the hero cycle last week in reference to inside out, it got me thinking. While summarizing and reviewing movies is fun, there’s way to tie it to writing. Movies are great at demonstrating literary elements! Particularly children’s movies because they have to do everything in a much more concise way.
So until Mythology Monday returns, I’m going to be highlighting some basic literary concepts using disney movies.
Let’s start with the most basic. Plot. Promise we’ll get more complex from here, just stick with me.
A plot is a sequence of events. Basically, the story. A typical plot line is comprised of the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. You can get more complex than this, but in any plot line you are going to find these elements.
So what’s all that stuff? Let’s look at Lilo and Stitch for an example.
The exposition is the background stuff established at the start of the movie. We see Stitch’s trial, a slice of life for Lilo, and a separate yet integrated slice of life for Nani. We’re quickly introduced to the rules of the world and the character’s wants, needs, and goals within it.
The inciting incident is another plot point that occurs before the rising action. It’s the first domino that falls and starts the chain of events that keeps the rest of the show going. In Lilo and Stitch the inciting incident is Stitch crashing onto the planet.
The rising action can typically be summarized as “There’s a problem. The character tries to fix it but makes it worse. Then they try to fix that and makes THAT worse, until the Climax when things get REALLY bad.”
In Lilo and Stitch there are three subplots working to form the overarching plot. Lilo wants to make Stitch a part of her family, but she is consistently undermined by Stitch causing chaos by trying to avoid capture, which wrecks Nani’s attempts to keep her family together. The conflict of these three separate sub plots bumping against each other builds and builds and builds until it crashes around them in the Belly of the Whale moment when Nani realizes she is going to lose Lilo and Stitch runs away. You could argue the belly of the whale moment is when Nani is demanding that Stitch get her back, but the moment is too swift and one of the hallmarks for the belly of the whale moment is that the character has time to marinate in how much life sucks.
The Climax is the highest point in the plot. The most stuff is happening and it’s all very fast paced and stops just short of resolving the plot. In Lilo and stitch this occurs when the three plot lines stop simply bumping into each other and truly merge. Stitch fights off his pursuers, destroying Lilo’s house and alerting the social worker, and just when it looks like things can’t get any worse, Lilo is kidnapped and Stitch demonstrates how much his character has changed by trying to save her while emphasizing the theme, Ohana.
The falling action is where the pieces start to get picked up. The battle may still be ongoing, but the tide has turned to reveal a clear winner but there are still some threats to be dealt with. In Lilo and Stitch the falling action is pretty concisely the conversation with the councilwoman. Lilo is out of danger, but Nani could still lose her and Stitch could still be arrested. The conversation that follows neatly clicks everything into place, solves a mystery, and leads the characters to their resolution, the happily ever after, which is shown in montage form.
And that, my friends, is a plot. Also, an amazing movie, seriously, watch it. Watch it again. It’s worth it.