Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Family Favorite Movie: Beauty and the Beast: 3D characters

Picking one movie to address in this post was a pret-ty difficult task.

I decided to ask experts in my circle (aka family and friends) which movie stood out in their mind  for any reason. Oddly enough, the 1991 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast won.

Ah, yes, I thought to myself. Good choice. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie nominated for an academy award for best picture; it also won the Golden Globe the same year.

But, when I asked my experts why they chose this movie, fully expecting the answer to be Disney's state of the art animation, they answered: "The characters." Belle's father became a significant character to this story as did others who may have never been mentioned in the original story." ( La Belle et la Bête by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumon)

Characters so vivid they became 3D memorable! 

Instead of throwing a didactic grocery list of what makes a main character 3D to you, I decided to take a left turn and zoom in on characters who typically wouldn't be 3D in most stories: the secondary characters.

How did the writers for Beauty and the Beast craft 3D secondary characters without letting them steal the scene/plot/story?

Here's how:
From the cast of secondary characters (Maurice, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and Lefou) we'll look at Maurice.

Could you recognize Maurice on a crowded sidewalk? Probably. He's short, pudgy, white balding hair, bushy, white mustache, thick brown eyebrows, and older-almost grandpa looking. 

This simple recognition, however, is a 2D feature-the basic components of a flat character.

So, what components made Maurice a 3D memorable character?

3D Maurice Description:
*Needs thick glasses when doing his work
*Knows what tool he wants but not it's name
*Thinks his daughter fits in the community
*He is open and friendly with the unusual (talking furniture-he only mentioned the beast as unusual to the villagers)
*Inventor of time/energy saving devices
*Gets lost easily 
*Poor
*Wants to "strike it rich" with an invention
*Belle's loving father
*Gets sick easily
*Blind to swindlers
*Helpless

How did the writers cause Maurice to become memorable in the limited time given to a secondary character?

Maurice had conflicts-
*He wanted to take his new invention to the fair, but he didn't know the way.
*He wanted to leave the castle prison, but not sacrifice Belle.
*He wanted to tell the villagers about the beast, but he didn't want them to think he was crazy.

Maurice had contributing dialogue-
His personality came through his speaking parts: caring, easily frightened, unable to find a solution or plan B for tragedies, happy, confused, and etc.

Maurice had a Distinctive Description-
Contrary to minor/flat characters in this movie (3 bimbos who wanted to marry Gaston, the baker, bookseller, etc.) Maurice had a fully developed description.  See partial list above. Beyond his physical description, we also knew what his home looked like inside and out, including furniture, and a basement/cellar.

Sounds like secondary characters need a lot of space

No. More is not better
Writing secondary characters into more scenes does not transform them into 3D. Disney writers used Maurice only as needed. He served as:
*the tool to get Belle to the castle,
*the interruption to engage the townsfolk in a rescue,
*a mere cameo at the end.

Each moment Maurice appeared on the screen he revealed:
*more about himself,
*his purpose for taking time and space,
*his essential contribution to the story.

Think of a card house, if one seemingly unimportant card fell or was removed, the whole house would fall.

Writers/Authors CAN craft secondary 3D memorable characters with Tight-Powerful Writing that doesn't allow a second to pass without revelation.

Readers/viewers expect main characters to be 3D. Beauty and the Beast has risen to the top by incorporating 3D secondary characters that don't steal scenes. 

Take a look at the secondary characters in your WIP/manuscript.  
Are your secondary characters stellar 3D memorable?
How can you fine tune your secondary characters?

12 comments:

Beth K. Vogt said...

Another example of why this blog is a must-read for me: Great content, practical break-down of information and a kicker of an ending question for me to take back to my work in progress.
Thanks, Mary!

Mary Vee said...

Thank, Beth
So glad you stopped by.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Funny, I never really think of Maurice when I think of this movie. But the details of his personality serve to enhance the story perfectly. Great post, Mary!

Pepper said...

Ooo, Mary
Such good stuff.
And I LOVE secondary characters.
LOVE THEM!!
But those 3 key components you listed are truly important for secondary characters existence:
reveal more about themselves
purpose
contribution to the story

Lots of times they are a different set of eyes on your main characters - which not only increase the depth of the main characters but themselves as well.

(and then they're great fodder for a sequel... not that I ever care to write sequels, of course ;-)

Mary Vee said...

Oh,of course, Pepper. I look forward to any sequel you might venture to write.
And you bring back to the surface a good point, the secondary characters are a different set of eyes to enhance the main character.
Thanks:)

Mary Vee said...

Sarah,
A co-worker of mine read the post and said the same thing. Kinda confirms Maurice as a secondary character.
I don't think this movie would have been as successful without Maurice. Brilliant of the Disney writers to unfold his character.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Isn't it fun how so many Disney movies have such great characters? I love that you picked Maurice. His part isn't huge but definitely memorable and a great reminder that fun little quirks are a great addition to our own novels. Great post!

Faye said...

Great post and one of my favorite movies!

Sherrinda said...

Awww, I love this movie! And I think you are spot on in your assessment! Great post!

Mary Vee said...

Cindy,
I like your words, "fun little quirks". That's what caused viewers like us to like him--of course Cogsworth and the other secondary characters were equally entertaining.
"Flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep." Love that line:)

Mary Vee said...

Thanks, Faye
So nice to see you here today:)

Mary Vee said...

Thanks, Sherrinda:)