My youngest is 26 months – two, to you non-parents – and like most of his age group, he has a favorite movie. The current front-runner is Finding Nemo (requested as “me-me-mo”), usually running twice a day.
Letting a two-year-old watch that much video in one day is not an argument I’m getting into; I’m talking about the opportunity watching a movie twelve times a week for a month gives to the writer. I’ve watched the film for one particular character throughout, hypothesizing as to what they’re doing when off-camera (without straying too far into Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-Are-Dead territory). I realized that Dr. Sherman (the dentist – y’know, P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney) took Nemo “off the reef” on a Sunday evening – all the cues are there to be found. I’ve figured out which characters have gills and which breathe like humans.
When a story becomes that familiar, you can focus your attention on real details, sifting it for the fine points. Listen to just the foley work. Watch just the expressions done through eyes. Play what-if with every decision point. Look for plot holes (a rarity in Pixar films, but Nemo has one: how do they get home?). Find the character arcs. Question decisions made, by the characters and by the writer.
Examine the structure of the script. Nemo flips between Marlin and Nemo until the climactic scenes; several of these along the way occur in pairs. One example: a scene that opens with Marlin asleep in the mask, and the descent into the trench and the terror therein, is followed by a scene that opens with Nemo asleep in the diving helmet, and his ascent of Mt. Wannahockaloogie and the test of bravery there.
By dissecting the details once the heart of the story is familiar, we can improve our own storytelling skills. The questions we ask of these other stories can be applied to our own, and they can be sharpened by it.
(By the way, did you ever notice that almost all of Andy’s toys talk, but none of Sid’s toys do? And that Andy plays by making stories wherein the toys talk, but Sid “plays” by talking to his toys?)