When it comes to structure, these guys have it down to a tee.
If you are looking for inspiration and how a screenplay should be written with brevity and clarity. You should look no further than a screenplay written for Pixar. And this one is no exception.
And you'll understand why the movie turned out so well.
It's a very simple story expertly put together.
- Carl dreams of adventure and to be like his hero Charles Muntz. Pg 1 - 5
- Carl meets Ellie and she shares the same dreams as him. Pg 6
- They grow up, get married. Sadly they're unable to have kids. Pg 6 -12
- Their dreams get put on hold due to circumstances. Pg 12
- Eventually Ellie passes away and Carl is left on his own. Pg 14
This all happens within the first 14 pages of the screenplay with just enough action lines for the animation department to work with. Brevity.
There are two very important turning points for Carl.
- The first one happens very early on when he meets Ellie inside the dilapidated house.
She sends him in a new direction. They get married and grow old together.
- The second turning point is when Ellie passes away before they can fulfill their dreams together. Carl is in church alone with a bunch of balloons.
Carl and Ellie never got a chance to achieve their dreams of going to Paradise Falls together.
A great setup.
The main story revolves around Carl's unfulfilled need of adventure. His desire to travel to Paradise Falls for Ellie and himself.
The secondary story is that he never got a chance to have children with Ellie.
This is where the character of Russell plays a huge role and his introduction on page 17. This is the son Carl never had. This is when their friendship starts.
Russell actually mirrors a young Carl.
This all works because it's all been setup in the previous pages.
When it comes to structure these guys know what they're doing.
A lot happens in those first 14 pages.
We get introduced to Charles Muntz, his airship, his love of dogs and his passion for catching the bird. We see him get ostracized from the Explorer's Society. They don't believe him, they think he fabricated the skeleton of the bird. At this stage, we don't know it. But this sets up the situation Carl and Russell will find themselves in later.
What's also important is that Carl idolizes Muntz, this guy's his hero.
On page 4, Carl is playing with his blue balloon, balloons will play a big part in the story to come.
Carl meets Ellie on page 6. These kids have lots in common. They both have dreams of going on adventures.
On page 8, Ellie shows Carl her adventure book. 'My Adventure Book'. She trusts him.
Ellie talks to carl about going to Paradise Falls on page 9. This will be their goal. This is what they want to do together.
However things don't go according to plan, on page 12 they suffer mishaps. The car tire, in hospital, tree smashing through roof. Plans are put on hold.
Carl and Ellie aren't getting any younger either. Time is running out.
When Carl does decide that they should go for it, he's run out of time. Ellie falls ill and winds up in hospital. Some good visuals here. Well, it's just the one visual with the blue balloon when he visits her.
After his altercation with the construction worker and his appearance at the courthouse. Carl debates as to what he should do next. Ellie's adventure book. The Adventure Shrine. The Painting of their house next to Paradise Falls.
What will his life be like if he goes to the retirement home?
What's he got to lose?
He knows what he has to do.
Carl's adventure starts on page 24. The balloons rise above the house. This is the main story in the movie. The goal he had as a young boy, the dream he and Ellie had but never achieved. He's going to Paradise Falls.
This adventure he's going on is enforced on page 25 with his dialogue.
'We're on our way Ellie.'
The subplot happens not long after this on page 26 when Carl is startled to find Russell outside his front door. I say subplot, but this is the start of Carl's and Russell's friendship as they bond over the duration of the movie.
Ellie and Carl were unable to have children so Russell in some way is filling a gap in Carl's life. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
We get introduced to Kevin the bird on page 41. This is one of the subplots.
Dug the dog on page 46.
We reach the midpoint on page 60.
Things aren't looking good for Carl and Russell. Alpha and the other dogs are leading them somewhere. But where? You could say this is a false defeat. They don't know it, but they're on their way to meet Charles Muntz.
Carl's childhood hero. The man he looked up to and idolized as a young boy. What could go wrong?
Everything goes smoothly when Carl and Russell meet Muntz. Carl can't believe how lucky he is. Especially when they get to go aboard the airship. And things do go smoothly until Russell puts his foot in it and mentions Kevin on page 68 after he notices the skeleton of the bird. This is when their situation takes a turn for the worst.
Things look bleak for Carl and Russell. On page 72 Kevin is bitten and on page 73 we find out how seriously the injury is.
On page 76 Kevin is caught and Muntz throws a lit lantern into Carl's house and causes a fire. Very much the low point of the film.
Some goods moments concerning the dimise of the bad guys.
Muntz falls but you don't actually see him die.
When the planes explode, the dogs don't die, they escape with parachutes.
Avoiding deaths in family movies like this is a must. Especially in animation.
You don't want to alienate your audience.
Lots of nice touches at the end.
Carl showing up and pinning Ellie's Grape Soda Pin on Russell.
The two of them on the curb counting the cars. Again these were set up at the start of the story.
Set Ups and Pay Offs.
The audience is more likely to go with things if they are set up early on.
And finally, having the house on top of Paradise falls at the end.
I recommend reading this screenplay. Then watch the movie and then read through the screenplay again. Much can be learned from this one script alone.
A great learning tool for screenwriters.