We have always encouraged our children to be independent thinkers, sometimes with unexpected consequences.
When my eldest son was six years old, he announced that he would no longer watch Disney movies. He said he didn’t like them because the parents either died or were separated from their children in almost every Disney movie he’d ever seen.
Of course, I explained to him that this was a plot device that forced the hero-child to solve his own problems, thereby making the story more interesting. Still, my son could not believe in a happy ending after the hero had lost his family.
So our four children grew up in that cultural rarity, a Disney-free home. No princesses, no singing mice, no evil villains falling to their deaths. Oh, we made a few exceptions, like Mulan and the Pixar films. (No dead parents there.) But for the most part, the release of a new Disney film drew about as much enthusiasm from my kids as my latest spinach recipe.
Recently, one of my younger sons decided this lack of Disney knowledge was a gaping hole in his cultural literacy. He began watching Disney theatrical feature films in the order they were released, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was first released in 1937. With lots of help from the wonderful staff at Eagle Public Library, he has watched more than 70 Disney films in the last two months.
What have we learned from cramming decades of film history into such a short time?
For me, as a writer, the most fascinating part has been seeing the story trends come and go. It doesn’t matter if it’s westerns, or animal tearjerkers, or even space travel. All trends cycle through three surprisingly predictable phases:
Phase I: The first hint I was surprised by how many times I watched a film and said, “Oh, that’s a remake of a blockbuster,” when in fact it was actually made before the hit movie. Usually, these are little films you’ve never even heard of. But somebody must have been inspired by them because a couple of years later, the same basic storyline is redone with a bigger budget, more famous actors, and patches on any plot holes. Then you have. . .
Phase II: The Blockbuster This is usually the big money-making film that officially starts the trend or brings it to the public’s attention. I watched a lot of them, trying to understand how they differ from the little films that passed by unnoticed.
While they are almost always well-written stories, their most important shared characteristic was that they were so completely different than every other film released at that time.
The switch from one trend to another is usually a quick, clean break, not a gradual metamorphosis.
Phase III: The Copycats A single blockbuster will spawn dozens of variations and imitations. The first few may be interesting, but the premise quickly grows tired and repetitious. In the end, the storylines are so predictable that even children are yelling out the plot points before they happen. That’s when you start scouring the list, praying for something different, looking for the little films that hint at a new trend.
Sometimes, when you’re in a middle of a trend—particularly if it’s one you don’t like—it can be hard to see the cycle. It’s easy to take the negative view and believe that storytelling is in a downward spiral from which it will never recover.
It helps to see the big picture. Don’t despair if you hate the current trends. Another one is just around the corner.
How about you? Do you enjoy jumping on the latest bandwagon or are you more of an independent thinker? What would you like to see as the next big trend in films and literature?