Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

Of Mice and Mulan

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on January 31, 2010 at 1:46 am

Disney crafts stories like the Egyptians crafted the pyramids – simple, solid and built to last.

Pixar, on the other hand, builds stories more like the Mesopotamians built ziggurats – fancier, quirkier, more mysterious and interesting – though that’s probably another Re:Writing post…

If you’re an instinctive writer, your modern Disney movie can sometimes feel like storytelling by rote. The beats and the twists come just where they should. The characters are feisty archetypes you feel you’ve seen before. There’s not a lot of room for surprise, unless it’s the sort of surprise you kind of knew was going to happen – which, let’s face it, is a pretty low form of surprise. Disney movies chug along like a super-efficient story-machine.

(Christopher Vogler, who worked on the story-structure for The Lion King, provides an insight into the nuts and bolts of it all here in his book The Writer’s Journey.)

But there’s an uncomfortable truth for anyone who finds the process a little textbook: they may be built to a formula, but Disney’s stories still kick arse.

I saw Disney’s Mulan for the very first time this week. The story kept me hooked from start to finish.

And here’s how I know it was the story that reeled me in: what I watched wasn’t Disney’s Mulan, the 1999 animated feature film, but Disney’s Mulan, the stage spin-off of the 1999 animated feature film as performed by a local amateur youth theatre group.

Of course, the phrase “local amateur youth theatre group” is normally a triple-strength reason to stay at home. In fact, any one of the phrases “local theatre group”, “amateur theatre group” and “youth theatre group” is usually toxic enough on its own.

But my daughter (10) was in it. And one of the unspoken ordeals of parenthood is to sit through your offspring’s school concerts, nativity plays or violin recitals with a look of benign indulgence on your face, even when your inner critic is noting every bum note, bolshie angel or bow-squeak.

So what I saw was stripped away of all the gloss and the glitz that the House of Mouse drapes over its storytelling: no slick animation, no pitch-perfect singing, no Eddie Murphy riffing over his script as a wise-cracking dragon-spirit. (Was this before or after he did exactly the same act in Shrek? I forget.)

And even through the slightly shaky accents (suburban Nottingham kids doing ancient China via Hollywood Boulevard) and the minimalist stagecraft (the climactic avalanche courtesy of a white bedsheet), I was still pretty desperate to see if Mulan would win the battle (she does!), save the nation (she does!) or marry the man she loves (she does!).

It’s easy to see how a compelling story is important if you’re writing a screenplay.

But it also relates to creative scriptwriting and copywriting in the commercial or corporate world.

A copywriter shouldn’t just be the person you go to who drapes fancy glitzy words over your idea, product or service.

A good creative scriptwriter or copywriter will see past the language to the bones of your idea. They’ll question what you want to say and why you want to say it. They’ll create a strong structure to your message and only then will they fit the right words in place on top.

Never settle for a Mickey Mouse writer. Mickey Mouse wouldn’t.

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  1. i would say that Lion King is one of the best animated films that i have ever watched ,”

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