Friday, January 7, 2011

Amateur Friday - The Imagineer

Genre: Biopic/Drama/Fantasy
Premise: The life story of one of the most creative minds of all time, Walt Disney.
About: For one of my favorite books about Disney, check out Disney War – a backroom expose of Michael Eisner’s tenure at the company. Some nice juicy stuff. -- Every Friday, I review a script from the readers of the site. If you’re interested in submitting your script for an Amateur Review, send it in PDF form, along with your title, genre, logline, and why I should read your script to Keep in mind your script will be posted.
Writer: Brendan Lee
Details: 117 pages (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Brendan has dutifully sent me his Amateur Review script entry every month since I began the feature and I can safely say there is no one who’s more passionate about his material than Brendan is about telling this story. I e-mailed him a couple of times and reminded him that I’m not the biggest biopic fan and therefore his script already had an uphill battle with me, but he maintained that that was okay. He just wanted the script to get read and hopefully make it better.

Brendan is also aware that writing a biopic about Walt Disney is a no-win proposition. He doesn’t have the rights to Walt Disney’s story, and if anyone wants to tell Walt’s story, it’s likely they’ll buy up some other more renowned material – not a script from a struggling writer trying to find a crack in the Hollywood wall he can slip through. However, that’s the exact same thing they said about The Muppet Man, which was purchased by Jim Henson’s company. So why can’t lightning strike twice?

Funny I should bring up Muppet Man, because there were a few times I was reminded of that script during my reading of the Imagineer. But I’ll get to that later. For now, let’s take a look at Walt Disney’s life.

We meet Walt at 5 years old back in 1906 Missouri. While the rest of his brothers and one sister have a more conservative outlook on life, Walt is more interested in the bizarre, in the strange, in the eclectic, and we see this obsession emerge when he stumbles into a carnival in the middle of the woods one evening. The colors, the atmosphere, the wonder – it’s that defining moment in a life where you immediately know your calling.

Unfortunately, Walt’s strict father, Elias, is the exact opposite of Walt. He’s a hardworking blue collar man who believes that the way to a living is getting your hands dirty, and not with pencil lead or finger paints. This strained relationship will end up haunting Walt for the rest of his life.

Despite this strain, Walt becomes a pretty good little artist and through the years manages to eek out a living selling drawings until he gets a job at an advertising house called Gray Advertising. Around this time, Walt’s more business-oriented brother, Roy, comes back into town and the two decide to form a business together. They move to Hollywood where they segue into making movies and Walt starts working on an animated film that will later become one of the most famous movies of all time, “Alice In Wonderland.” (it will also, unfortunately, lead to the monstrosity that was Tim Burton’s version of the material last year – something I’m positive Walt wouldn’t have approved of!!).

Finally, Walt’s dreams are beginning to come true, though not without conflict. Walt’s obsession with thinking outside the box and always trying to create the next spectacle nearly puts he and Roy out of business several times. Cause as anyone who’s worked with visionaries before can tell you, spectacle doesn’t come cheap. But Walt’s genius always seems to bail them out, and when Universal tries to rip them off over a movie deal, Walt has had enough and tells his brother they’re opening their own studio.

But while Walt’s businesses continue to thrive, he is still haunted by his father’s lack of approval, an approval he will never receive since his father dies before they can reconcile his career choice. Of course we all know that Walt went on to even bigger things, creating one of the most iconic brands on the planet, Disney World, but we’re left to wonder if that was ever enough for a man who just wanted his father to say, “Good job.”

Okay, before I get started on the critique, let’s recap why I have such a hard time with biopics. The main problem is that they don’t usually have a goal for the main character. Instead, the movie becomes a retelling of their lives, which can definitely be dramatized, but the lack of structure prevents that dramatization from ever firing on all cylinders.

For this reason, it’s hard to critique biopics because all you’re really critiquing are the events that make up a person’s life. You’re essentially saying either this man’s life is interesting or it isn’t.

So from this screenplay, did I find Walt Disney’s life interesting? Not really. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Imagineer. But Walt Disney’s life, at least the way I interpreted it, wasn’t that difficult in comparison to the lives of other less fortunate people who went on to have great success. Outside of some humble beginnings, the obstacles that stood in his path – getting rejected by a lot of newspapers, not having enough money to do what he really wanted – were frustrating but by no means cataclysmic.

Even though I didn’t like 2005’s “Ray,” you got the sense that being blind, African-American in a racist world and growing up with diddly-squat, that that man had to overcome some impossible obstacles to find success. Or "The Aviator," about Howard Hughes. That man had to overcome obsessive OCD and even survived a trio of plane crashes to get to his success. You really felt like that was a life worth writing about.

That may be The Imagineer’s (or more specifically, Walt Disney’s) biggest hurdle in telling his story. Is his story interesting enough? I’m not sure it is.

Still, I have to admit that there’s something about The Imagineer that pulls you in. Brendan’s passion for the subject definitely bleeds onto the page and this is one of the zippiest biopics I’ve ever had – a welcome change from a genre that usually gets bogged down in overindulgence .

There are two moments in particular that stuck out to me. First, there’s a wonderful scene towards the end where Walt finds closure speaking to an apparition of his dead father. These scenes are so incredibly tricky to write because it’s easy for them to devolve into melodrama. But Brendan really nails it, and it’s impossible not to get choked up listening to this last conversation.

The other moment has to do with the final scene (SPOILERS) where Walt Disney is talking to his creation, Mickey Mouse, before he takes that final train off into the next world. There’s something so sad and touching about it that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the emotion. If it wasn’t for that moment, I’m not sure I ever would’ve felt Walt Disney as a real person. But that last scene really changed that.

Of course, this leads to a problem, one that a number of you are probably already thinking – Isn’t that last scene similar to The Muppet Man? Well, yes, it is similar to The Muppet Man. And that’s unfortunate, because I know Brendan’s been working on this forever and it’s likely he wrote this scene long before he even heard of The Muppet Man. But there’s no doubt that reading it reminds you of that screenplay, and that, unfortunately, is going to result in some people seeing it as unoriginal.

In the end, I think I’m going to recommend this. There’s something unexpectedly sad and unique about a man dying who’s brought so much happiness to others, because you feel like a lot of that happiness is dying with him. You’re going to get choked up here and just the fact that the writer is able to make you feel something about this man’s passing tells me he succeeded on some level.

An interesting script for sure. I’d like to hear what biopic lovers have to say about it. Go ahead and download it below.

Script link: The Imagineer  

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you’re going to write about someone’s life, make sure that life was complicated, interesting and had plenty of adversity to draw upon. Because you can’t lean on a traditional storytelling arc (the 3 act structure) and are more a slave to real life events, you want to make sure those events are as interesting as possible.

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