Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Nevermending Story

Logic--the bane of a cartoon writer's existence sometimes. The argument, "it's a cartoon" too often fails to win the day when trying to justify actions in the script that defy logic--even if you're writing about a dead child's ghost who befriends a suburban everykid.

Oftentimes, when presenting scripts to studios, it feels like the goal isn't to entertain kids, it's to make sense. Are kids tuning into their favorite shows because, "Hey, this one makes sense!" "I love Skippy & Flippo because it's so LOGICAL!"

The link below will download an article by Andrew Nicholls, who's wrote the book I posted about last week, "Valuable Lessons."

Click Here for The Nevermending Story

Here's an excerpt:
Meanwhile, you are trying to think of a way to have a character who’s never been on a date or talked to a girl stun an auditorium full of kids with his dancing skills. Sorry; skillz. And the same people who want you to do that because it will be funny (actually, because it was in a movie they saw) urge you to keep it “truthful.”

Hard work and craft get us through 99 percent of our days, but every writer prays for an epiphany. Over the past year – my tenth writing animation, overlapping 30 years of live action – I’ve begun to have a heretical one. It’s that when we alter reality in order to entertain, Story cannot be fixed, not properly, anyway. It’s not only broken, it’s inherently broken. The best we can ever do is to find the least conspicuous fudge to glue it back together.


Evan said...

I've noticed that Spongebob Squarepants bounces happily between logic and illogic. Air-breathing Sally Squirrel lives inside an air dome, and wears a diving helmet when she ventures outside. Makes sense. But then we see things that raise Vulcan eyebrows, things that are impossible in the underwater environment - like open flame, for example. It's all for fun, I know it's "just a cartoon", but I feel this kind of thing undermines that aquatic world. It seems sloppy, like the writers forgot where they were.

Another Evan said...

No doubt, fantasy requires rules and they must be adhered to. I'm never one to say "all notes suck" and neither does this article. A problem arises when adherence to logic makes story scenes klunkier, gags slower, and spontanaeity less er, spontaneous.

The article addresses more than logic though, it talks about an array of observations on writing for kids, written by an highly experienced, if road weary, eloquent spokesman.

Logic Leprechaun said...

Baby Huey note from the powers that were.
"It has come to our attention that, Ducks don't have teeth. Can we take out Huey's teeth?"
Yes, ducks do not have teeth, nor do they talk, nor are they six feet tall, and 1st Evan's note "Fire shouldn't burn under water." Sloppy business that!

Marty said...

I dunno. This kinda reminds me of something a producer/story editor once told me about executive notes: If they're nitpicking logic, it probably means you're not entertaining them enough.

Walt Disney said...

I'd heard that note too regarding executives, but I think it's more them just giving a note, any note, to justify their jobs. It's giving executives too much credit to assume that they can actually be entertained any more than you could entertain a stapler.

DamienDevilDemonLucifer Smith said...

Many shows do have their own logic language. Execs can't just use a generic term like, "cartoon logic" to either justify an illogical gag or nix it.

For example, SpongeBob's producers have their own rules as to what can happen in that world and what can't, even though at times, it seems incredibly inconsistent.
Fire can exist in that world, but in one episode, the moment Patrick points out the obsurdity of their underwater campfire, it goes out.

Execs often do not understand that there is a different logic language for different shows.

It really should be up to the show creators to decide what kind of logic that they want on their show, and if it gets kids to laugh, screw everyone else.

Steve said...

I have a "drive a truck through it" logic toward logic.

Funny wins and if it doesn't destroy the character, I have no problem going for a joke and then tagging it with a second joke that points out the absurdity of the situation.

The latest thing I can think of was this:

One of our characters is done with a rant, pulls up his wrist, checks the time and goes:

"Wow! Look at the time and where did I get this watch?"

We never see the watch again.

Does it make sense? Sort of. Maybe. But it did make me laugh.

Bob Harper said...

Robert Mckee has destroyed cartoons - Long live Tex Avery!


Another Evan said...

No, seriously though, take a gander at the article, and not just my ham-fisted summary. The whole thing was too long to post, so I just linked to it. Read, read...

Steve said...

Good god.

I started to read it, then thought "Christ, this thing is huge!"

Then I stopped.

Then I started again.

And I couldn't stop reading it.

This well thought out snipped from Andrew Nicholls valiantly defeated my ADD.

Speaking of which, I see something shiny. Good night!

Christy Marx said...

A show like Spongebob doesn't require real-world logic.

I'm a stickler for logic when creating or working on action shows that have at least one foot planted in "reality" (or something close to it!).

But a goofy, funny show -- if they establish up front that it's not the real, logical world, then let them do whatever they want. It's all about the humor, in that case.

Evan said...

Yeah, It's not so much about logic vs illogic, it's about internal consistency. Either Bikini Bottom is underwater or it isn't. Lighting a match, to me, is a gross and obvious violation of the premise. The campfire gag that Damien mentioned is a good and necessary cover. How do they explain-away the bathtub scenes? Heavy water?
BTW, that is a great article, Another Evan!

Kent B said...

I hope that this commentary about fires under water in Sponge Bob is done with irony -

I've never seen a kid complain about the lack of logic, but there are apparently some grown ups who are very disturbed by "inconsistencies"

Matt Wayne said...

Hey! You just spoiled the ending to Barnyard for me!

That was a great essay. You have to wonder why the network and studio execs CARE about story logic when they're giving notes to people who have a better ear for it. (Story editors aren't nearly as infuriating to me as to Nicholls, but my experience is limited.)

What really drives me crazy is the execs who try to make a half-hour serialized cartoon follow the "structure" of some half-understood hero's journey junk, like Star Wars or Big Trouble in Little China (No fooling, I've been told to "make it like" that. It was a cute movie, but no template for a cartoon.) In thirty years, they've made six Star Wars movies. There are probably going to be 13 episodes of any cartoon in any year, each much shorter than The Phantom Menace. So NOTHING those execs have to say will apply. But there they are, God bless'em, practicing their rap for the unlikely day they get to wreck a movie franchise instead of a kids show.

Matt Wayne said...

But I digress.