Welcome back to movie Monday! We’ve talked a bit about plot and soon we’ll get into different plot structures. We’ve also talked a bit about characters and their development. But today we’re going to talk about something a bit more subtle.
Motifs. A Motifs is a recurring symbol that links to the theme of a work. Let’s back up there and talk about symbols.
In a story, a symbol is basically an object that has deeper meaning than itself. For instance, in many stories light is just light. It may be darkened or lightened to match mood, just like different objects may be swapped out to establish settings (swords instead of guns to indicate time period for instance) but in many cases light simply acts as light.
Light is often used as a symbol. When shadows overtake the land, it’s often a symbol of evil conquering. When a candle is snuffed out, it’s often a symbol of death. Sunset is often a symbol of old age or endings and sunrise of youth and beginnings. Light doesn’t become a motif until it’s used repeatedly in the story as a symbol for the same thing. The best, absolute best example of this in animation is in Dreamwork’s The Croods.
Light is a symbol for growth and innovation in the Croods, darkness for stagnation, death by standing still. Literally every use of light in the film is intentional and it’s always used to mean the same thing.
Their cave is dark, the closer they get to the cave, the narrower the light grows. The further they go from the cave, the brighter the landscape. Even night is more illuminated away from the canyon/cave area. When they leave their home, they fall through a shaft of light.
Eep chases the light, craves it. Grug hides from it, fears it. Guy brings light, and with it change. His parent’s last words were “follow the sun, and you’ll make it to tomorrow.”
Also the saddest thing I’ve ever heard because he took tomorrow to mean a place when what they were actually telling him was that he’d LIVE to tomorrow. But tomorrow as a place made for a beautiful quest arc, so I also love it.
He tells stories about a tiger (symbolically Eep) riding on the sun to tomorrow. That majorly plays into the ending. Embers and light and hands dancing in shafts of sun are images that keep coming back throughout the movie. I mean look at all of this.
You can’t go thirty seconds in that movie without seeing light acting as a symbol that supports the theme. They did an incredible job (and missed out on a major opportunity by not having the ending credit songs be that “Follow the day and reach for the sun” song). I maintain the ending would be a thousand times stronger if it had ended during this scene and the narrative would have been stronger.
And if at any points any of the characters acknowledged that Grug kept them alive for decades and they wouldn’t have gotten to a place where they could grow/change without him. Just as light needs darkness to shine, innovation needs a foundation on which to grow.
But what can you do?