The Overwhelming Power of Wonder in Storytelling
There are several moments watching La Luna in the theater when I was actively fighting back tears. It sounds ridiculous, I know! It’s a PIXAR short. Nobody dies. Laur, you are an emotional wreck.
This is a post attempting to explain my emotional reaction to animated imagery, the efficacy of music set to it and the power of transcendent storytelling. Minor SPOILERS after the cut.
The story as PIXARians describe it is one about tradition.
La Luna is the timeless fable of a young boy who is coming of age in the most peculiar of circumstances. Tonight is the very first time his Papa and Grandpa are taking him to work. In an old wooden boat they row far out to sea, and with no land in sight, they stop and wait. A big surprise awaits the little boy as he discovers his family’s most unusual line of work. Should he follow the example of his Papa, or his Grandpa? Will he be able to find his own way in the midst of their conflicting opinions and timeworn traditions?
Crying did not occur because of this story. The story was cute, funny and all-around charming. You could see the father and grandfather bickering about how best to teach the young boy through the visual cues like how to wear a hat and which tool to use for sweeping the fallen stars. Hardly worth shedding tears for.
I believe turning on the waterworks was the only reaction my body could muster in face of overwhelming beauty.
I specifically remember my tear ducts kicked in when they held an extreme close-ups to the boy’s face, his eyes large and his attention arrested by seeing something magnificent happening before him. It is a moment independent of the actual plot but purposely crafted to instill a sense of child-like wonder. It’s a curious parallel with what’s happening off-screen and in the theater seats. We are both the boy in that moment and ourselves watching that boy.
Paired with the tremendous force of Michael Giacchino’s music and it’s all just too much for this poor artist. It’s a double whammy of feeling. Sound is 50% of the theater experience and to hear what sounds like the secret music of my soul piping through the speakers coming at me with that gorgeous imagery and my heart overfloweth.
Feelings! So much of them!
It is the same reaction when Wall-E and Eve dance among the stars and when Hiccup and Toothless bond with each other. That these segments are purely visual with no dialogue is important. I cry openly when people I care about die in movies/TV shows. In animation, I may be crying because of sheer happiness.
Andrew Stanton, the director of two of my favorite PIXAR movies, Wall-E and Finding Nemo, talks about ‘wonder’ being an important element of storytelling. The talk below is a great insight into one of our generations’ best storytellers.
Wonder is a powerful element in storytelling. Especially in visual storytelling. To me, it’s the difference between a mediocre story and an unforgettable one. Hold my attention, keep me in the moment.
Comics is happily in the same medium though we unfortunately don’t have the power of Giacchino’s compositions in our arsenal.