Tag Archives: Story

Zootopia and The Power of Story


I’ve been thinking about the importance of Story again. My friend E. L. Bates recently posted the transcript of a talk she gave at her local library on that topic (read the full thing here, it’s well worth it). “This is what stories do,” she says, “they sink into our hearts and give us the tools we need to live more fully, more richly, in the everyday world around us.” Yes, exactly.

Last weekend, we went to see the new Disney movie, Zootopia. I’d heard that it was good, so while I wasn’t expecting any great profundity of the flick (it’s a Disney talking-animal movie, after all), I went into it hoping to be amused for a couple of hours and not have too many groaner moments. And those hopes weren’t disappointed.

But what bowled me over was the message of the film. That’s right, a Disney talking-animal flick with a message that I actually found really meaningful. And not the standard follow-your-heart-you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be one, either (which nowadays just causes an eye-roll reflex in me, but that’s a rant for another day). Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers, the movie still being as new as it is. But what I found astounding is that the makers of Zootopia, who have been working on this movie for, I dunno, years, put out a film that hits right smack-dab at the bull’s eye of the current social issues. It’s as if they’d had a premonition of what the political and social climate of March of 2016 was going to be like, and they set out to tell a story that makes its point far more effectively than any sermon or political rant could do.

And that’s something I found profoundly encouraging. Because, you see, young children aren’t going to go to political rallies. And, let’s face it, most of their parents and grandparents won’t, either. But they’ll go to this movie, because it’s Junior’s birthday and you’ve got to do something with that horde of little hoodlums he’s insisted on inviting. So you take them to the movies to see the story of a perky little bunny rabbit from the country who wants to be a big-city cop, and hope that her and her sly-fox sidekick’s adventure will keep the kids quiet for a couple of hours. And in the process, Junior, his friends, and Mommy, Daddy and Grandma, without even noticing it, are being taught some lessons that couldn’t be more important in this moment in history, lessons about the insidiousness of fear and prejudice and of the power of acceptance.

But let me quote E. L. Bates again: “But [the stories] are not instruction manuals thinly disguised as entertainment! Perish the thought! If you set out, in writing a story, to point a moral or teach people something, you have failed before you’ve even begun.” In the case of Zootopia, Disney most certainly did not fail. It’s a well-told story in its own right, full of endearing characters that will enter the Disney canon, with great animation and jokes (including quite a few that will zip right over Junior’s head, but provide Mom & Dad with a good chuckle – including the teensy little Mafioso shrew with his nasal Godfather drawl). We’ll keep watching this film for decades to come for its story, because it’s a good movie – and in the process, its profound message is going to be absorbed into our collective psyche.

The pen (or in this case, film camera) is mightier than the sword – and that is something that can give us all hope.

Life, the Universe, and Zootopia. Story wins again.

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Hanging Out My Shingle, or: A New Endeavour

It’s a new(ish) year, and time for a new endeavour. Remember I told you a few weeks ago that I was cooking up something new? Well, here it is: I’m hanging out my shingle as an editor. That’s right, I’m joining the ranks of the professional nitpickers. I aim to occupy myself with such questions as whether it’s “endeavour” or “endeavor” – or perhaps even “Endeavour” (which depends on whether it’s British, American, or the title of the TV series).

For now, I’m starting small, with copy editing and beta reading. The latter is really a form of content or structural editing, letting the author know what I think of their piece as a whole, as a reader. Copy editing means the nitty-gritty of mechanics – spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice – and as such can even go into the realm of stylistic editing (smoothing language, clarifying meaning, making things sound better). All of which has the purpose not to tear down a work, but to make good writing even better.

It’s just a little scary to hoist my flag and announce to the world that I’m now available to take apart your writing (that’s “take apart”, not “take a part” – although, of course, by taking it apart I’m also taking a part in it). But, well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And as I wrote on my brand-new editing page (that tab up on top of this page), helping a good story take shape and get ready to go out into the world to meet its readers is a tremendously rewarding thing for me.

So there it is: amo vitam Editing Services. I’m excited, and a bit nervous, and on the one hand kind of unsure of what I’m doing, but on the other quite certain that working with writing is what I want to do and that (not to boast or anything) I’m actually quite good at it.

Life, the Universe, and a New Shingle Hung Out. Do me a favour and pass the word?

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The Power of Story, or, RIP Leonard Nimoy

vulcan saluteIn case you hadn’t heard, Leonard Nimoy died this morning. The Internet is going to be buzzing with remembrance over the next few days; everyone and their pooch will be posting pictures of him, throwing each other the Vulcan salute, and discussing their favourite Star Trek episodes ad nauseam. The whole of Silicon Valley, I’m sure, will go into mourning.

But why? An 83-year-old Jew from Boston passes away peacefully in his LA home after a long and prosperous life – so who cares?

We do. Millions of us do. Because Leonard Nimoy was not just a person beloved by his friends and family, and a man highly gifted in his chosen profession. Leonard Nimoy was Spock. And as Spock, he brought something to our lives that was unique.

In fact, Leonard Nimoy’s passing, just like the tragic death of Robin Williams last year, illustrates with brilliant clarity just how powerful the impact of Story is on our lives. Nimoy became Spock; he became Story. His embodiment of this character, his telling us of who this – entirely fictional! – person was, allowed us to enter into Spock’s being, let us become, for a short time, another. He, like Robin Williams did in his many roles, gave us a powerful gateway into the realm of Story.

We need Story; we live in Story. And that is why so many of us are touched by the passing of a man who lived thousands of miles away from us; whom we have never spoken to; who, in real life, did not have pointy ears and go around classifying everything as “logical” or “not logical”. It almost feels heretical to say that – Spock is not real, he does not exist. But, actually, he does. He existed in what Nimoy created, and took root in our imagination. And as such, the death of Leonard Nimoy does not put an end to Spock’s existence. The power of Story simply carries on. There was no Spock before Nimoy became him (and created the all-memorable Vulcan salute – there is a very interesting video clip here, where he explains its origins). But now, there always will be Spock.

And we can continue to draw inspiration from his story, from the portrayal of the man who lives in logic but yet has to come to grips with the emotion seething inside him; a story that draws us out of ourselves and lets us grow with him. Leonard Nimoy brought us the empowerment of seeing Spock live – of being Spock.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Story. Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy – you lived long and prospered.

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