The above image, from this website, shows some of the concept art for “American Dog”, a Disney movie that turned into “Bolt” after its original director, Chris Sanders was removed. This was apparently due to disagreements over storytelling with John Lasseter, and therefore raises parallels (in my mind) with other projects where the orginal directors/creators were removed for failing to solve “storytelling problems” (Jan Pinkava on Ratatoullie is another case and maybe Glen Keane on Rapunzel Unbraided as well) .
Apart from any talk of conflicting egoes, it does make me wonder: What exactly is good storytelling?
Pixar movies have been used as a gold standard for a while now in critical circles, and on Ratatoullie, Brad Bird is often cited as having fixed numerous storytelling issues in a matter of weeks. But here’s the rub though: as much as I loved the 2 Toy Stories and Iron Giant, I’ve been underwhelmed by later Pixar movies, from Ratatoullie to Wall-E; Bolt was a pretty bland movie as well.
Which makes me wonder what the movies would have turned out like if Sanders and Pinkava had been allowed to carry out their vision; something more personal, less commercially driven perhaps? Or were there really objectively quantifiable problems with their approach? Is good storytelling a subjective thing or is there some sort of universal (or at least human) standard we can point to? (say…a 90% rating on rottentomatoes? :p)
I guess I worry about these issues working on my own stories, particulary the current Malinky Robot GN: is there enough direction in the plot? Emotional engagement of the reader? Is the conflict resolution placed at the right time, at the right intensity? What would a John Lasseter make of the Brothers Quay or Jan Svankmajer?
Who exactly do we write for, and to what end?