Archive for the ‘Children’s books and movies’ Category

Wandering through Target with my daughter, she stopped me for the new Lego line “Friends.” It’s a pack of cute, Lego-sized dolls where you built them and their play sets. Brilliantly simple idea and a fine execution.

She asked me to read the descriptions of the four girls on display. What took me by surprise was that they actually had negative sides of their personalities. One of them loves to plan parties, but she can be bossy. One of them loves to perform, but is a bit of a drama queen.

This, I thought, was fantastic. Most of the times, personalities for kids’ toys are very straight and narrow. They never have a bad side to them. “This one loves animals and the color pink!” That’s about as much as you’ll get from some of them.

It’s so bad that the “books” that are put out to support the toys (or do the toys support the books?) just pick a toy as the main character and put words in her mouth. The characters are that interchangeable that it just doesn’t matter who says or does anything.

So I was pleasantly surprised that, in just a few short sentences, the Lego Friends were well described and set up enough things for them to do.
What I Learned: For a story to happen, there has to be conflict. The best conflict comes from between characters. But they have to be different enough for that to happen.

Lego Friends Mia HeartLake Vet

 

We brought our daughter to see “Beauty and the Beast,” re-released in the theater. (We saw it in 2D, however!) I got to thinking of a better fate for Gaston, the movie’s villain.

He’s probably one of the more personal villains in Disney movies. And his goals and the ways he goes about it are more cruel than the power-hungry villains like Aladdin’s Jafar. But I was always surprised he died at the end.

What should have happened is that he falls….and lands on Lefou, the toady. Lefou is then seen as a hero in the people’s eyes, and Gaston becomes his toady.

Jafar, Ursula, or Scar…they will never rest, so of course they die at the end of movies. But Gaston is the type of character that utter humiliation is worse than death.

 

 

 

For my (sometimes inappropriate) humor videos, visit:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge?feature=mhee

 


I always check the publisher of the books my daughter brings home from the library. “When a Dragon Moves In” was published by FlashLight Press. (http://www.flashlightpress.com/index.html) I had never heard of them before. I assumed it was an imprint of a larger, impenetrable publishing company.

I was pleasantly surprised that it was its own company. A little bit of research showed they were owned by a company that published adult books, but it was still small. It was still approachable.

Which means it’s approached by EVERYONE.

Their submission guidelines had changed in that they only respond if they really like it. They said it was because they got way too many submissions, and they couldn’t respond to them all.

That’s the way it is with us writers: Once the door opens a crack, we all rush toward it so the door cracks off its hinges.

There are so few publishing companies out there that actually accept unsolicited submissions that those who do get swamped very quickly. I only hope that my submission stands out from the herd.

What I Learned: There’s huge competition even at the little publishers. The same rules apply: Make it your best effort, and make your book stand out. (This is better than the big ones, in which you can’t even enter the competition.)

Don’t abuse the little publisher that could. They’re nice enough to offer you chances to have your work published. The least you can do is buy their books and keep that door open.

Megan McCafferty, an of young adult novels, was speaking today to students at Central Regional High School, where she graduated. She said that she came up with what she thought was a great idea for a picture book.

Her agent declined it because there wasn’t enough potential for a stuffed animal to come out of it.

“Wow,” said an English teacher behind me, sadly.

Christopher Nolan was told by the film studio to make his Batman movies more “Toyetic.” Now, I suppose, books need to be.

This should come as no great shock, really. Everything is merchandised.

But two things make this worse. The first is that here’s this New York Times bestselling novelist, and she doesn’t have the muscle to get a non-toy book published. Secondly, marketing toys to children when you’re trying to get them to read is a downward slope. Reading should open doors to more reading, not to buying commercial products.

My wife and I were in Toys R Us and were surprised to see Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious dolls. Reading is a very private thing, most of the time. And despite the popularity of these series, we just never thought of the idea that hundreds of thousands of kids read them. Hundreds of thousands of potential customers.

I saw a Splat the Cat at Barnes and Noble. I almost got it, but I didn’t because:

  1. I’m cheap
  2. My daughter has enough stuffed animals already
  3. I don’t think she’d play with him the way she’d play with her other toys. Maybe I’m wrong about this.

 

This is depressing. But I guess you have to think of it in terms of children’s TV shows. There isn’t any children’s program on TV right now that isn’t trying to sell you something. Except maybe the public broadcasting shows. But if Sesame Street is any indication, with Elmo’s face on everything, the other shows will have marketing potential too. A quick Google turned up Word Girl (My favorite PBS show) costumes.

So, I guess we just have to live with it. Books aren’t just for education or entertainment anymore. The main thing they teach us is how to be a consumer.

What I hope the Muppets Movie will be:

Celebrities

I’d like to see some celebrity cameos, as long as they are celebrities worthy of costarring alongside Muppets. This is a mainstay. The Muppets always had big name stars. It’s always fun to point out famous people.

For the most part, the human cameos of the Muppet movies were great. Take a look at the talent in The Muppet Movie: Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Bob Hope, Elliot Gould, Dom Deluise, Carol Kane, Orson Welles, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalis, Cloris Leachman, and tons more. Hell, some of those people were practically Muppets themselves.

Of course, the celebrities that get used were very much a sign of the times. Brooke Shields appearing in “Muppets Take Manhattan,” which came out in 1984, for example.

This is a tough call, because I just don’t want the movie to have lots of cameos by stars-of-the-moment. I don’t want to see any reality show star, a Kardashian (I’m proud of myself that I had to look that name up on the Internet to learn how to spell it), a teeny bopper music “star,” or any other flash-in-the-pan. If we’re going to have to Google these people in five years, they shouldn’t be in this movie.

Little to no Elmo

I’m taking the fact that Elmo is not on the movie posters as a good sign.

People have told me their kids think Sesame Street is Elmo, and everyone else is a supporting character. I’m under no delusion that he won’t have a cameo. But the scene stealing red furry kid can stay home.

This movie is about introducing kids to the Muppets – they already know Elmo. And the adults either don’t know him or know him and are sick of him. Give me Big Bird again.

My family recently went to Sesame Place. All the older attractions were named after the Count, Cookie Monster, and others. Everything newer was Elmo. Granted, Cookie Monster made a plea to host Saturday Night Live and Grover did the Old Spice Parody, but you can see who’s King of Sesame Street.

I made a video about it. I used pictures I took at Sesame Place, video of my daughter’s toys, and pictures donated by people on Flickr.

Every Minor Character

It’s also telling that even the Mana Manas are on the poster. Every little character that we even slightly recognize will be crammed in – hopefully in a good way. But you know that at some point, Crazy Harry is going to blow something up. The chef will have a spotlight. And Lew Zealand will throw a fish.

A Send-up of Current Movie Trends

I expect jokes about 3D (involving Bunsen and Beaker), bad parody movies, comedies that are only made for adults, etc. There’s an endless supply of things that are wrong with movies today. That’s why the Muppets aren’t around – because Hollywood keeps making movies that are bad.

Now maybe the “Scary Movie” people can lampoon this, “Muppet Movie.”

Actual Puppetry

There are still parts of the older movies where I can’t figure out how they made the puppets move that way. The rat kitchen dance scene in “Muppets Take Manhattan.” Any time they ride bicycles I’m like “How do they do that?”

This means no digital toys. The director has already said he doesn’t want to do computer animation. This makes me very happy.

Oh, and can I tell you how jealous I am of Jason Segel?

About 30 minutes into this movie, I thought, “Geez, this is going by awfully quickly.” I had completely forgotten that all the build-up was in the last movie. If I could watch more than one movie in a sitting, it might be that they form a more natural build to a plateau of action.

That said, the director David Yates understood timing. There were many shots that were long enough to take in the scenery and the emotion. They were even a welcome break from the scattershot action movie trailers that came before.

But the speed necessitated that things had to be cut. We never saw the Fred Weasley death scene, unless you sort-of saw it when Voldemort called off the Death Eaters. We also got gipped on Lupin and Tonks. Occasionally, the movies will show something the books didn’t, and this is one thing my wife and I both wanted the movies to fill in. We saw them reach for each other, so I guess that was more than the book gave us. I was hoping for a little more from the Molly Weasley/Bellatrix Lestrange fight, but it got the job done. We’d never seen Molly duel, and it would be cool to see her let loose like McGonagall, who kicked ass!

I wonder how much Emma Thompson got paid for her 3 seconds as Sybil Trelawney? Certainly, I’m glad she wasn’t dropping crystal balls on Fenrir, who also showed up for 3 seconds. But, that’s the nature of movies, they excise or marginalize lesser characters and parts. Hagrid was a huge casualty. Did we really need to see the Carrows?

The one scene from the book that was missing – the only one that really sticks out – was Harry’s declaration in front of everybody that Snape was a hero. This could have happened when they were done apparating. The apparation fight was a nice touch, and as they are flying wild, they could have landed right in the middle of everyone.

I’m glad they only hinted at Dumbledore’s past. My main criticism of the books has been that more than half of the action happens more than a decade ago. Everything that’s happening now got it’s start at various times: When Dumbledore was gathering power; when Tom Riddle and Hagrid attended Hogwarts; when James, Lily, Remus, Sirius and Severus attended Hogwarts; and when James and Lily were killed.

I was happy with Neville Longbottom, who has always been my favorite. I root for the underdog, and I feel that if I was in that world, I would be the bumbler who always felt like a second-string extra.

I found that I had to try to cry quietly because I didn’t want to miss any of the dialogue. The biggest tearjerker was Snape’s pensieve scenes.

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/deathly-hollows-2-everyone-will-cry/

 

My wife started crying in the opening scenes, with Snape looking out over Hogwarts. No one knows why.

Now, it will continue in Pottermore, which is just as well, but it’s hard to deny that there was an ending here. And it was a satisfying ending.

 

I had written a review of Part One here:

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/review-deathly-hallows-part-one/

I’m not ready for the last Harry Potter movie.

I’m ready for the deaths of key characters. I’m ready for the war. What I’m absolutely not ready for is the credits.

The first movies of the series filled us with wonder as we first saw Hogwarts in all its glory. Hagrid’s Hut. The Shrieking Shack. Now, we’ll see it all be dismembered pixel by pixel in vivid computer animation. At least I’ll only be seeing it in 2D (Yes I bought my tickets already).

Once those credits roll: That’s it. There’s no more. It’s over.

No more movies. No more anticipation. No more hours-long discussion over how they’re going to handle different parts of the books in the next movie. No more debate over whether something is going to be changed. No more releases of studio pictures. Cast interviews. Trailers. Nothing!

The journey of reading the books for the first time is long over. The end of that was painful as well.

Now, we’ll have to say goodbye to its celluloid legacy. It’s going to be a theater full of people crying, and I’m not prepared for that at all. It’s going to be like Toy Story 3.

I’m going to start posting all of my YouTube videos here. My apologies in advance.

In a previous post, I talked about how there are a lot of filler characters in children’s entertainment.

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/who-the-hell-is-yukon-cornelius/

This book is no different. At the very least, you should read this book, or watch my executive summary of it, as an example of how not to write children’s fiction. My apologies to whoever did get stuck with the writing chores; I’m sure they did the best with what they were given.

 

I upload one new video to my channel every week:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

Also once a week, probably on Tuesday, I will write a little about each entry.

All of them are silly. Some are offensive.

 

The Goldfish Principle.

A goldfish will grow larger in a bigger tank. If you have a small tank, or a crowded tank, the goldfish somehow regulates its size. In a larger tank, it grows enough to spread out. It’s an obscure piece of trivia.

Actually, I’m not even sure it’s true, but it’s a good metaphor for time management. A project will take as much time as you let it.

Let’s say you give yourself a month to write a Green Lantern fanfic comic book, it will take you that entire month. Because in the back of your head, you keep thinking “I’ve got ’til the end of the month.”

But if you give yourself a week. And really stick to that deadline, then you WILL get that project done in a week.

The best thing about that: You have three more weeks that month to write something else. If you gave yourself an entire month, than you’d only have one finished project to show for at the end.

Obviously, your goal has to be realistic. You’re not going to be writing an entire screenplay in a month. (Not if you have real job, anyway.)

And before you worry about quality and doing a rush job, what I mean by this is to write the first draft of something. You can always go back. Or, if it’s a considerably long project, you can cut it up into smaller pieces and decide that completion of one of those pieces, say, the first chapter of a novel, counts as one. I got a bunch of comic books written by writing one scene a day. (The blog on this is here: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/05/)

I’ve worked as a reporter for years. We have firm deadlines. Maybe that’s what helps.

Last year, I put myself on a budget of doing something every week. This meant I would do one of the following: Send work out to a publisher, upload a video to my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge?feature=mhum), or do a considerable amount of work on a project. Considerable = finishing a story, comic book, or a large chapter of a book. I made a calendar and wrote down every finished project. I turned out to be something like 21 over by the end of the year. So not only did I reach my goal, but I got extra stuff done as well.

Therefore, I keep my goldfish small and manageable.

Here’s a link to a very funny YouTuber, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, of 500 Impressions (In 2 Minutes) fame. In it, he challenges people to work on something every week. I probably got the idea from him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViNF6_3fHfU&feature=channel

Is it a sign of getting too old that I want less adventure in my movies?

I was watching “Up” and “Toy Story 3” lately, and it struck me that the parts of the plots that injected action into the story were the least interesting.

Other people might have thought the same thing. When you talk about “Toy Story 3,” do you talk about the extremely lengthy escape scene or do you talk about the tearjerking ending? When discussing “Up,” do you talk about an evil explorer trying to catch a bird, or do you talk about the sad, quiet moments when the filmmakers told the story of Carl’s life in silent snippets?

I liked both of these movies. But, as my wife said, the adventure parts of it seemed “too grand.” They got in the way of the fantasy.

In place of the goofy action in the previous installments, like dueling with the evil Zurg, “Toy Story 3” had actual danger. To a degree, this made the action all the more important. But at the same time, to stretch that out into overly elaborate action movie quests just made it less important.

It had the fantasy of toys being alive, and how they get through life. Whereas the first two were fun and light, this one had a bleakness in every aspect of it. It wasn’t as uplifting as the other two.

And “Up” didn’t lift me up at all. Take the idea of an old man tying balloons to his house to make it fly. Where is he flying? Is he going somewhere or is he trying to get away from something? Both, as it turns out. That should have been enough to give it the whimsy of some of the best non-violent children’s stories.

But instead, the heroes are fighting against a villain who gets killed at the end. Not the fantasy I wanted. It began perfectly. It ended perfectly. Throughout the middle, I kept thinking “What is going on here?”

Maybe this was because “Up” and “Toy Story 3” were both made for 3D.

They had to have extra action. There were a lot of shots that seemed like they were supposed to come out at you.

With regards to 3D: What filmmakers need to realize about their new toys is that a decade or three down the line, no one’s going to care about whatever technology you created. Yes, color and sound were both huge for movies, and both had detractors at the time. But the technology is supposed to compliment the movie. The movie shouldn’t be a slave to the technology.

But anyway, even in other movies, I want less action, and more characterization. I hear about a great idea for a time travel story or whatever, and then I lose interest when it devolves into “just another reason to fight.” The fantasy elements are not fantasies by themselves, but MacGuffins to get people to fight. A plot device for violence.

Maybe I should learn from this. All of my comic books, of course, involve violence and struggle. Perhaps these struggles should be more internal and interpersonal.