Writing Lessons from Disney's Most Maligned Animated Film
And a chance to get your picture book published!
From the Writing Desk: May was an insane month—hence the late delivery of this newsletter! More on this insanity next month, when I’ll hopefully have my head on a little bit straighter!
But for now, I thought we’d have a little fun. I know I could use it. I have done several Disneyathons at this point in my life (once, including all the sequels…I cannot express how bad Bambi II is…). But, straight-to-video sequels aside, I have genuinely liked almost all Disney Animation Studios feature productions. (I won’t tell you what my actual least favorite is.) But there’s one that maybe gets the most flack of all, and has even been called “the film that killed 2D animation”…and ya know what? I really liked it.
So what are some writing lessons from Home on the Range?
Foils are effective. Two of the main characters in this could not be more different. One is prim and proper, and voiced by Judi Dench. One is…not. The drama, tension, and fun this dichotomy creates makes for some good entertainment. If you’re wondering how to pop your story a bit more, ask yourself if you’ve got a foil for your main character that’s being put to good use.
Good old fashioned Bad Guys are pretty dang fun. Honestly, that’s one of the things I miss in the more recent Disney offerings. Is this yodeling cowboy the most memorable of Disney villains? Nah, not even close, but he was still fun, and I can’t think of a Disney villain song I don’t love. We hail subtlety as a literary quality to strive for in our writing, but it’s worth asking…why?
We will always love underdogs. The power imbalance in this movie is legit. We’re watching naïve bovines go up against a malicious and bureaucratic human mastermind that even the other humans couldn’t defeat. They have no clue how they’re going to succeed, and we as the audience don’t either. This isn’t uncommon or a novel writing concept or anything, but it’s worth keeping in mind, and this movie gives us some solid underdogs…er, undercows.
Even Alan Menken can’t cover up an incohesive story. Ok, I’ll give one negative takeaway, because yeah, even though I liked this movie, there are problems. Honestly, I thought the building blocks were all there—the best of which are super fun songs by Alan Menken, the Midas of music imo. But all those blocks don’t ever quite feel like they fully come together. There are spots where the story feels lazy, without the necessary work being put in to the structure that holds the story up in the first place. And honestly I find myself falling into this trap too. I love me some fun jokes, some voicey narrative and dialog, and some pretty sentences. But if there’s nothing solid underneath, it’s like putting frosting on a collapsed cake.
Still yummy cake, though ;)
What I’m Reading: Indulge me this month, if you will, in talking about a book and an author that needs absolutely no boosting from me or anybody, but whose book I’ve been reading and just really loved. Yeah, there are some spots where the seventeen-year-old protagonist feels like he was indeed written by a seventy-five-year-old man, but wow can this guy build a story. If Home on the Range suffers for structure, Fairy Tale is the opposite of that. There’s not a single story block that feels unstable, or even slow, which is impressive for a book of this length. But of course King pulls it off. Of course he does.
What I’m Watching: I’ve been on the K drama train for a little bit now, and no plans to depart. My latest binge is the Netflix show Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha. Like a lot of K dramas, this show starts light and sweet, and then gets heavier in the second half. There was a lot I loved about this show (the aunties and halmeonis!) and especially, the beautiful pining broken face of Kim Seon-ho. He’s quickly becoming one of my very favorites. Nothing will ever beat Goblin, but this one was worth the watch.
Raina Telgemeier on Sharing Your Story: This is from a few years ago, during the 2019 National Book Festival, but still worth listening to now! I remember living in DC, one of my favorite things was the National Book Festival, and I still love going through and watching some of the videos from each year. Raina is an absolute delight, and I feel like I always leave her presentations feeling excited and inspired.
What I’m Drawing: Poems and comics for the month!
I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.
Writing Opportunity: Owlkids Books is having an open call for the month of June! If you’ve got a picture book manuscript ready to go, or a fiction or non-fiction idea you could turn into a proposal, check out their guidelines and see if you’re a match. Good luck!
Teacher or Librarian? I would love to do a free virtual Q&A with your class or book group! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit you can reach out to me via my website. Let me know how I can support you! I’ve also got free classroom resources to accompany each book. You guys are rock stars!
Thanks for coming along everyone! I’d be honored if you forwarded this to anyone you thought might find it useful. Onward!
Thanks for reading!