Learning Story Structure from Movies

Animated Movies are Perfect Examples of Tight Story Structure

Photo by William Olivieri on Unsplash

Back around 2005, I created a character who was an animator for my novel, Becoming Latina in 10 Easy Steps. She’s still one of my favorite characters because she was quirky, and she had a great job. She worked for a fictional animation studio, and I bought books on animation and read everything I could about movie studios, and I watched a lot of animated movies.

Two that I watched many times was Monsters Inc and Mulan. The Monsters Inc DVD had extra bonus videos that showed how the animators created movement in the fur, and it was fascinating. I learned a lot about how animators work. I chose Mulan simply because I loved the story of a strong female character going after an impossible goal. I also got the opportunity to do a behind the scenes tour while visiting one of the Disney parks.

While watching these movies many times, I paid close attention to story structure even though that wasn’t my original intent in watching the movies. And I learned that if writers want to understand plot structure, studying Hollywood movies, especially animated movies is a great way to see exactly how it’s done. And it’s interesting to see how close they stay to the same structure.

Look at how closely they follow the hero’s journey.

Inciting Incident/The Call to Action:

Mulan — Act I

The main characters are introduced, we see them in their ordinary world. Then the problem becomes clear. The Huns invade China and one male from each family is called to fight and defend the country. Mulan’s father must go, but he is old and frail. Mulan tries to interfere, but her father tells her to stand back and learn her place as a female in society.

She has no choice; her father will die if he goes. Mulan must leave her ordinary world as a Chinese woman and pretend to be a man and go in her father’s place to fight without her family’s knowledge.

Monster’s Inc — Act I

The main characters are introduced, Mike and Sulley. We learn about their ordinary world in Monstropolis and their jobs at the scare factory, Monsters Incorporated. The factory scares kids because…

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