Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Inside Out: Movie Tropes for Children, From Sadness Springs Joy

One of the most profound lessons drawn from Pixar’s 2015 Inside Out is a truth about the human experience for children and adults: none of us escapes sorrow.

The central character is Riley, a character named in keeping with the culture’s evolving consciousness about gender. Reluctant to define and confine art to one gender or another, watch for writers, especially screenwriters, to use gender neutral names, a trend embraced by celebrities and stars. The Kardashians chose a map direction as a name for their first child; Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple. But I digress...

Riley is a happy girl. She has friends, a family who loves her, and a sport she enjoys. Her father, however, has a goal: to begin his own business hundreds of miles from the home Riley has known. He moves the family to San Francisco where the food is strange, the new home humble, and friends must be acquired.

Riley is understandably challenged. All the change happened to her--without her consent--and she wants the comfort and happiness of her old home. She can’t know that her new home--in time--will bring the same comfort and happiness. All she experiences is loss, and as a child, she cannot know that we are the architects of happiness. We can find it and make it.

A child needs help finding and making happiness. Her psyche tries to restore her to a state of joy, but with distracted parents who do not comprehend the depth of her sadness or the source of her anger, that psyche flounders. Only when Joy embraces Sorrow and both appeal to Riley’s parents can Riley heal.

From Sorrow Rises Joy
Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography
She does, of course. She proves the resilience of the human spirit, the power of family, the urgency of love given daily and freely, and the need to acknowledge the sorrows that come. Riley’s lesson is the lesson we must learn over and over throughout our sorrows: from sorrow springs joy, a trope common in children's literature as well as adult literature.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Inside Out with your favorite three-year-old.

Writing Challenge:

Tell the story of a sorrow that drew you down and onward to joy.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tropes Common in Children’s Movies: Childhood Interactions Played Out by Animals--or, in Inside Out--by Animated Figures from Our Subconscious

The three-year-old who accompanied me to see Inside Out declared it to be a great movie! The character of Joy delighted her. When Sadness dominated the screen, she was somber, attentive when Anger vented, and a bit puzzled when Fear shared the dire consequences he imagined. She recognized the emotions she experiences and struggles to name, and this is the power of Inside Out.

The movie’s power is also a nice twist on a trope common to children’s movies. Instead of Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger as the accident-prone, hyperactive member of the group, Inside Out delivers Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend. In place of Eeyore, the introverted, tail-dragging donkey, Inside Out provides Sadness to predict doom and gloom. Roo and Piglet are countered by Fear, and Rabbit’s counterpart is Disgust. These animated figures not only illustrate the emotions that plague and please us, they also serve as stand-ins for the people children--and adults--encounter on the playground.

Joy, of course, is the star. She is the iconic cockeyed optimist. She tries to spin troubling events into good moments that will become, at the end of every day, long-term happy memories. She bounces and coaxes, empathizes and redirects. She proves the power of hope, determination, and friendship.

More important, perhaps, Joy proves that a full life without conflict, anger, regret, or sorrow is simply impossible. Joy learns, and so do we.

After Winter's chill shade, Spring arrives full of hope and warmth.
Reading Challenge:

“Read” Inside Out, Pixar’s 2015 film.

Writing Challenge:

Watch the YouTube film, “107 Pixar’s Inside Out Facts YOU Should Know." Choose one of the 107 facts for a journal response about the movie. 

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dreamworks’ Home Features a Favorite Children’s Trope: A Best Friend

Last week, My Writing and Editing Coach considered children’s tropes in use in Home, a 2015 Dreamworks’ film. The focus was on the child forced to complete a quest after losing a parent to death or distance.

This week, the focus is on the best friend that helps the child complete his quest. In fact, many stories suggest that the child could not succeed without that friend.

Stuffed animals often become confidantes, pals, and best
friends for children. Dreamworks' Home features Oh, an
alien from Boov in the role of best friend for Tip.
Christopher Robin has Pooh, and Pooh has Piglet. Mice, birds, and fairy godmothers befriend Disney’s Cinderella. Even spunky little Anna has help from Olaf.

Indeed, a child’s best friend is often an imaginary one or an animal, animated or stuffed. For Tip, the child at the center of Home, her acquired and necessary best friend is the alien, Oh, from the planet Boov. He is both wise and foolish. He knows how to power a little car so that it will fly, but he doesn’t understand that conquering an entire planet is not an act of kindness.

Oh learns, however, as he helps Tip journey to her mother. Tip also learns from Oh. Both evolve and grow from enemies to frenemies to devoted pals who would risk everything, even life and safety, to help the other. This, it seems, is the power of friendship and love. Both restore us to a state of well-being; both enable us to find our best selves and share them with a world that is not always kind.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Home.

Writing Challenge:

Home reveals several important points about the human experience. Choose one stated below to develop an essay or journal entry.

  • The reasons conquerors use to justify invasion and war may be self-serving.
  • Leaders may lead a nation into circumstances that harm many; people must think for themselves and act in the interest of greater good.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, even aliens, young girls, and whole planets.
  • One nation’s action could drive another nation into extinction.
  • The bonds between mother and child are powerful.
  • Everyone has the heart of a hero, but not everyone can overcome healthy self-interest to be heroic.
Connye Griffin writes My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Movie Tropes for Children Found in Dreamworks’ Home (2015)

A student of the Disney film collection knows that most Disney narratives feature an absent or distracted parent. Poor Bambi loses his mother to a bullet, Snow White and Cinderella are orphans, and Inside Out’s Riley is a little girl lost when her parents begin a new life and a new business in San Francisco. Dreamworks’ Home makes use of this trope to invent a charming tale about aliens overtaking Earth and consigning humans to a restricted zone.

Gratuity “Tip” Tucci watches the aliens carry away her mother. Like little Wall-E, Tip watches films of her mother to provide their back story. These movie clips reveal how close Tip and her mother were, how loving their relationship, and how much Tip misses her. She vows to find her mother, to rescue her from alien control. Thus, Tip’s quest takes direction, and her adventure begins.

Children’s movies often feature children who must grow up too soon. They must make their way in a world both foreign and familiar. Along the way, they encounter self-serving adults--just as poor Tramp did, as Lassie often did, and as Snow White certainly did.

A child's adventure may be along a pathless wood or a
well-marked path under a clear sky. Who among us
wouldn't wish for a well-marked path for our children?
Photograph provided by Al Griffin Photography.
Tip also proves how resilient and resourceful children can be against an uncaring or chaotic world. She never wavers in her efforts to find Mom, and her determination further endears Tip to audiences, teaching them that setting a goal and working hard to attain it trumps simply wishing on a star every time.

Happy endings await Tip, Bambi, Snow White, Cinderella, Riley, Wall-E, Tramp, and Lassie. Each overcomes trials to reunite with lost loved ones or find a new, loving family.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” any and all of the films referenced in this essay. Review also the literary term “inciting incident.” Consider the absent or distracted parent trope often used in children’s literature as the inciting incident for the child’s quest.

Writing Challenge:

Write a letter to Dreamworks or Disney arguing for or against the happy endings resulting from the child’s quest.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Henry Standing Bear Stands in the Fine Literary Tradition of Loyal and Clever Sidekick

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach. She also writes for

One of Craig Johnson’s finest character creations--his strength as a writer, in my opinion--is Henry Standing Bear, first introduced in Cold Dish, Johnson’s first book in the Walt Longmire series. Henry is among good company as the shaman, explained last week. He is also a classic sidekick.

One of the earliest sidekicks is Horatio, Hamlet’s school friend, so renowned as a scholar that Elsinore’s guards trust him to explain why the kingdom is preparing for war and what ghosts signify. Hamlet trusts him as well. To Horatio, Hamlet reveals his suspicions about Claudius, the disgust he feels for Gertrude, and his readiness to fight even if it means his own death. From Horatio, the English ambassadors and invading Fortinbras learn about Hamlet’s anguish. It is Horatio’s tribute that defines Hamlet as a tragic hero.

The Western literary and film tradition is flush with sidekicks although many are far from clever. On film and TV, bumbling figures portrayed by Gabby Hayes or Andy Devine accompanied Roy Rogers, the more talented problem-solver and cowboy.

Butch Cassidy enjoyed the Sundance Kid’s loyalty and help, but Sundance, unlike Roy’s bumbling sidekicks, was as smart and talented as Butch. He just applied himself differently.

True Grit’s charm and appeal is in part due to the unusual sidekick--an adolescent girl matched with an aging blowhard. They are loyal to each other, and they are matched well. Each is intelligent and brave.

Sidekicks both loyal and intelligent
Photo taken in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Henry Standing Bear is not only loyal as Walt Longmire’s sidekick, he is also a keen mind upon whom Longmire relies. Henry’s observations about folks in Absaroka county and the admiration he’s earned through acts of generosity and kindness set him apart as heroic in his own right. He acts independently for good and occasionally outside the law, but he’s ready to accept the consequences of his acts if asking for forgiveness is not enough.

When Longmire acts in his official capacity as sheriff, Henry assumes a subservient role, helping Walt as he can. On the other hand, when the men interact on a personal level, Henry might be judged the one in charge. To that extent, Henry is unlike other sidekicks, notably Sancho Panza, a gullible but fiercely loyal friend to Don Quixote; Friday, a figure from the eighteenth-century’s colonial story, Robinson Crusoe; and Tonto in the television version of The Lone Ranger.

Henry Standing Bear is too much his own man to be Friday, too smart to be Sancho Panza, and too proud of his heritage to be Tonto. Henry is a friend as loyal as Watson is to Sherlock or Ron and Hermione are to Harry. He is as scholarly and refined as Horatio, a man to be admired, a man to call friend.

Reading Challenge:

Read any and all of the works cited as illustrations for literary sidekicks.

Writing Challenge:

Identify your favorite sidekick and explain why.