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Lettin’ Go with Daddy Crood

Saw the advanced screening of The Croods tonight.

NO SPOILERS – READ AWAY

I’ve got a few people I want to meet before I die.  Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco  are two of them.  Tonight I was going to meet them – OK me and a couple of hundred other people – at the Toronto preview of The Croods – I had my ticket, I had a baby sitter, I was ready to kick another item off my Bucket list.

Then it decided to snow in Chicago and they couldn’t fly out.  The weather disappointed, the film didn’t.

First a quick review – for you poor suckers who are going to have to wait ‘till March 22nd.  I have to be honest, it probably won’t push Shrek out of my #1 spot, but it might come very close.  Funny, warm, cool social satire, AMAZING environments, GREAT acting and a great story – go see it.

Now, on to the “animatingyourlife” take on it.  How’s this one going to help me grow?  Or is it?  Is it one of those pieces I look at and go “That was great…what’s for lunch” or is it going to stick with me for a while?

The Croods might just be getting under my skin a bit – sooooo, what’s it saying to me?

There are a lot of themes subtly and not so subtly woven into this one: loyalty, security vs. freedom, physical strength vs. intellectual strength, romance, but the thing that pulls me in is Dad.  Here’s a guy having a HARD time letting go of the past and the safety he knows.  Can’t blame him, it’s a rough world for this Caveman, but things are changing and he’s a bit slow on the uptake…Palaeolithic guys are like that sometimes.  He can’t move forward because he can’t let go.

I’ll be honest.  There’s comfort in the familiar – even when it doesn’t work anymore.  Papa Crood has is Stone Age baggage, I’ve got mine, and I have a hard time letting go…for me, it comes out in resentments, especially when I was right and they were wrong and they just didn’t appreciate me the way they should have and why couldn’t Sanders and DiMicco make it, it always snows on my parade.  Oh dear, that does sound pathetic.  I’m working on it; if a bunch of Neanderthals can change then so can this nerdy art addict.

I promised no spoilers, so I won’t tell you if Papa Crood makes the change or not – Don’t assume it all works out just because it’s DreamWorks, Sanders and DeMicco take it somewhere I did NOT think it would go, made me cry a bit, but just a bit ‘cause I’m tough…like a cave man.

Aside

Accepting My Inner Ogre – ridding the world of Ographobia

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE Shrek?  Why yes, yes I did. – Check out my other posts on Shrek.

Making it Real with Shrek

Breakin’ Out With My Favourite Ogre

This morning I was talking to a student about Fiona and how she changes…her arc.

Here’s a princess with a VERY dark secret…SPOILER ALERT…SPOILER ALERT She’s an ogre by night – only true love’s first kiss can break the spell.  Her’s a princess with some serious shame – she hates something she is – something she has no control over.  She’s got some serious Ographobia going on…that’s a nasty thing when you are an Ogre.

Her arc – from shame to acceptance and on to celebration.  Go Fiona!  Pretty awesome stuff here – how does it happen?  I’m sooo glad you asked.  I’m going to tell you how she starts…

She MEETS AN OGRE.  She comes face to face with her biggest fear and she finds out – – – wait for it – – – he’s not the baby eating, virgin violating monster she’s been led to believe.  He’s a grumpy, curmudgeon, but he’s not a monster.  It takes a while, (about half the movie) to fully accept it, but being an Ogre just isn’t so bad…it can be kind of fun actually.

One of the best way to combat prejudice is to actually meet the people we judge – the people we make assumptions about.  When we do, we’re going to find out that some of them will TOTALLY confirm our preconceived ideas, but most of them will not.  Any group regardless of how we try to pigeon hole them – race, sex, sexuality, language, culture, hair colour, financial status, clothing, ogreness – will have its share of good and evil, caring and selfish, givers and takers.  It is always the same.  Fiona learns to accept herself by meeting an Ogre – the very thing she hates and fears the most – when she does, she finds that he’s not that horrible – – – and neither is she.

Something else occurred to me this morning.  Fiona’s arc isn’t just about shame, it’s also about arrogance and pretention.  She thinks (and acts) like she’s just a wee bit better than the rest of us…OK maybe a LOT better than the rest of us.  Over the course of the film she realizes that those two extremes are both false, she is neither more monstrous, nor superior to anyone else.  She’s just a woman/ogre…when she discovers and accepts this she is finally happy, loved and content.

The times in my life when I was most pretentious and most arrogant (I know, I know you can’t imagine me being arrogant of pretentious, but yes my friends, I’ve been there, done that and picked up a T-Shirt that was WAY better than yours) have all coinsided with my most insecure, and shameful times, times when I struggled the most with self esteem and self acceptance.  What do you say we all just accept ourselves – warts, green skin and all – and at the same time accept that our strengths and our weaknesses don’t make us better or worse than anyone around us – they make us human – or Ogre as the case may be.

A stroll to the Abbey-Downton

I’ve become a little addicted (OK a LOT addicted) to Downton Abbey.  It’s been a LONG time since a television show captured my attention the way this one does.

So – I ask myself the animatingyourlife question.  Why?  There have been other shows as great that did not draw me in the way this one has.  Why has this show about upper/lower classes in 1920’s England gotten under my skin?  It’s easy to cite the obvious…the stories are intriguing, the intrigue is intriguing, and the acting…two words about the acting Maggie Smith.  If we’re strongly drawn to it it’s trying to teach us something, trying to help us grow into the people we are meant to be.   (check out my earlier post on what Jung says about this http://animatingyourlife.com/category/egghead-psych-stuff/ )

This week, as the house and the town were playing cricket I figured it out.  For me Downton is about loyalty.  Everyone in the show seems obsessed with doing their best for the greater good…or the preservation of the house.  They go about it in different ways, some of them are strong while others are not, some are good while others are not, some are self-centered and egotistical while others are not, but they all realize that they’re in it together – if Downton goes down, they’re all in trouble – so they pull together.

This may not be why anyone else watches the show, but this does it for me.  In the end, they all pull together, Bates comes to Thomas’s aid, Branson convinces Lord Grantham to work with Matthew and EVERYONE (upstairs and down) was upset at what happened to poor Sybil.

I’m going to spend a bit of time looking at my own loyalties and the people who are loyal to me; my own little pilgrimage to the abbey.  Do I exhibit the same loyalty that Daisy and Mrs. Patmore do?  Mind you, I think Daisy’s loyalty is going to be tested pretty soon…just sayin’.

Flexible Strength-More lessons from The Incredibles

After my last post about the Incredibles’ incredible romance, http://animatingyourlife.com/2013/02/05/the-incredibles-incredible-romance/

I can’t stop thinking about the mix of strength and flexibility that Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl struggle with and eventually attain.  I’ve realized that this is an area I need to work on.  I’m on Elastigirl’s side on this one.  I’ve always prided myself on my ability to adapt, to change, to stretch and be flexible, yesterday I realized that I have done this at the expense of inner strength.  I think about the number of times I’ve buckled and caved to pressures to be what I wasn’t or do what I knew wasn’t true to who and what I am.  The results have never been good, not for me and not for the people I was bending for.  We can only be effective or helpful when we’re being true to who we are, our principles, what we know to be true.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about an impending conflict and how Finding Nemo helped me face that conflict with integrity,

http://animatingyourlife.com/2013/01/30/finding-trust-while-finding-nemo/

I realize today, that it was also a huge movement for me in terms of finding and claiming my own inner strength.  I didn’t twist myself out of shape to avoid the truth.  When I do that (and I have for a great deal of my life) I’m lying.  I know that’s harsh, but it’s true.  Living an authentic life is about finding our strength and our flexibility, as long as we’re stubbornly maintaining one or the other, we are not complete people.

I am very flexible and I adapt well, that’s a strength and I’m not belittling or dismissing it, it has served me well and will continue to do so.  I will work to be stronger, to be strong and flexible, they are not mutually exclusive, if Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl can do it, so can I.

Keep it real.

Rob Corbett

PS did I mention that Brad Bird is a genius?

Fighting the Conflict

Character vs. Character

Character vs. Environment

Character vs. Self

We’ve all heard it before, if you’re in the arts, or went to high-school you know how important it is: find it, create it, intensify it. We don’t have a story, a scene or a decent creative moment without some sort of conflict.

What they don’t always tell us is that we have to find the love – the attraction too.

Conflict – almost by definition – pushes characters apart; we need to find out what pulls them together.  What pulls them toward each other or their environment?  If there’s nothing keeping characters together, they leave and we don’t have a scene.  The only exception are prisoners*.   It’s the push pull between conflict and attraction that makes our art interesting.

As an example, let’s look at a couple of boxers.  Here’re a couple of guys (usually guys) beating the snot out of each other.  Where’s the love?  It could be love of sport, love of a woman who likes boxers, love of a father who thinks I’m soft, love of the prize money, even love of getting the snot beaten out of me, but if there’s NOTHING pulling me into the fight I leave – – – or in my case, I don’t go there in the first place.  If you want me in a boxing ring, you’re going to have to turn me into prisoner and trap me there…I’ll be the guy running at top speed from Mike Tyson.

I realized this morning that I’ve never really examined the push/pull, conflict/attraction issues on internal conflict.

Here goes:

STOP FIGHTING WITH YOURSELF!!!!

Be true to who you are, be gentle with yourself and be honest with your desires. Stop turning your life into a boxing match.

I’ll do the same.

*More about this in a later Blog

Breakin’ out with my favourite Ogre

Story telling (animated or otherwise) depends on character arcs.  We’re all on some kind of journey; life is never static (even when we want it to be).  The character arcs we are most drawn to are the ones we need to learn from to help us on our own journeys.

My favourite is Shrek.  I’ll tell you why at the end, but you’ll probably figure it out before then.

Shrek starts his journey as a loner, he’s built some pretty serious walls around himself to keep everyone out . . . quite frankly, from the way the locals treat him, I don’t blame him.  People can be so freakin’ mean sometimes it seems that life would be better without the whole nasty stinkin’ lot of them.

He finishes surrounded by community, married and singing some rather rockin’ karaoke.

It didn’t happen by magic.  He took some very definite steps.  He had his trip forced on him, we don’t have to.  We can make decisions and take action that will take us to real friendships and love before the fairy tale creatures invade our swamps.

Sooooooooooo what did he do and more importantly, what can we do?

He accepted a deeply flawed, irritating, friend – who didn’t judge him.  Let’s face it, Donkey’s irritating, he has no concept of personal boundaries, or social norms and he doesn’t have a clue when he’s not wanted…but he’s a friend.   If you’re looking for a perfect friend/partner/spouse, you’re going to be very lonely.  There’s a difference between dangerous toxic people and people who can drive us crazy at times.  One of them needs to be avoided at all costs, one of them is . . . human (or a Donkey in Shrek’s case).  Some brilliant voice work here by Eddie Murphy By The Way.

He leaves his comfort zone.  Shrek doesn’t go willingly, he’s forced out, but he goes.  He moves into places that are uncomfortable, places he’s avoided in the past.  Do I have to explain this one? Nothing changes if nothing changes.  We can’t grow if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing all along.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Get out of your comfort zone.

He wins.  He lands in Duloc just in time for a tournament and he wins (with the help of his irritating friend).  We all have something we’re good at.  Often it’s something we dismiss because it’s so easy . . . for us.  Even small successes will yield amazing results to our self-esteem if we don’t totally dismiss them.

His journey continues and includes some really important points that I’ll come back to at some point, but I want to keep the Blogs short.

Accept people for the deeply and beautifully flawed individuals that they are, while you’re at it accept yourself for the same reasons.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Celebrate small successes.

I grew up feeling deeply alone.  I had very few social skills and suffered from a magical combination of pretention and low self-esteem.  I convinced myself I was happier alone and put a LOT of effort into proving I was right.  It’s taken decades to learn what Shrek learned.  I wish I’d learned it earlier.  I wish for you a whole community of irritating, loving friends . . . are there any other kind?

Making it real with Shrek

One of the techniques actors generally use (though not all of us) is to create character histories.  Generally there simply aren’t enough real facts about a character to make them real when all we have to work with is the script (or in the case of animation, the script, storyboards and soundtrack).  When we build character histories, our characters come to life, they become a little more real.

One of my favorite characters of all time is Shrek.  When we look at the facts we’re given we find a very two-dimensional character.  For over two decades I’ve been asking students what the “Facts” are about Shrek.  The list is always similar.  This is a story about a isolationist Scottish* Ogre who thinks he’s an onion.  This is NOT a character, it’s a REALLY rough sketch, we have to flesh him out or no one’s going to relate.  There’s no “right” answer, but two of my favorite histories to come out of classes are these:

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 1: As a teenager, he was driven out of Scotland by his fellow ogres who hated him because he was too soft.  He comes to this mythical place where he’s heard everyone is nicer.  They take one look at him and hate him because of the assumptions they make.  He moves to the swamp and tells himself he’s happy there – – – truth is, he’s a lot happier alone than he is being with people who hate him.  As an adolescent, he notices one of the girls in town, the mean girls pick on her and she’s a bit of a social outcast.  He wishes he were brave enough to say something, but he doesn’t.  One day the mean girls in town drag the poor girl out to the swamp, knock on Shrek’s door and leave her there in the mud.  He goes to help her and she FREAKS OUT.  Runs to the mean girls and tells them how awful it was.   They hurl obscenities and rocks at him.  Then she tells her father that “The Ogre tried to touch me.”  Out come the pitchforks and the torches and they try to kill him.  Suddenly, with a bit of imagination, Shrek stops being two-dimensional.  He becomes a person we can relate to.  Seriously, is there anyone out there who hasn’t thought at some point that the world was just too fricken mean and wanted to shut them all out?

SHREK HISTORY VERSION 2: Young Shrek lives in Scotland where he’s totally in love with a very cute Ogress.  One day the entire village is celebrating a great victory.  There’s going to be a huge banquet and fireworks.  Shrek and his main squeeze sneak off to a convenient barn (which happens to be where the fireworks are stored) to get some Ogre love action.  The hilt of his sword sparks on a stone and the entire town, including his honey, is wiped out . . . and it’s his fault.  Now he lives far from Scotland and refuses to have anything to do with friendships or love…everyone he gets close to dies.

Neither history is “right” Shrek is fictional (sorry, you had to hear it eventually).  The object is to create a character who is “real”, to find the humanity in our characters.

In our world, we have a tendency to judge, to look at the surface and decide what’s inside.  Most, if not all, of us work to not judge on issues like race, gender, sexuality etc. but do we make assumptions based on things like posture, grammar, clothing . . . etc.?   When we do that, we turn people into two-dimensional characters. We stop seeing them as real people with real lives.  Do we ever do the same thing to ourselves?

Everyone has a story**, we may not have access to their stories, many people are private about there lives, but when we realize that everyone around us has lived through hard times and great times, failures and successes, our own lives become richer.

I think in the end, we’re all onions . . . just like Shrek.

Check out my next Blog – we’re going to look at how Shrek changed his life in some pretty coolio ways . . . and how we can learn from him.

*Scottish heritage courtesy of Mike Myers 🙂

**A former student of mine says he now uses this as his principle pick up line.  “What’s your story?  Everyone has one.”  He says he gets to know a lot of really great girls this way.  😉

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