Writing Formulas in Disney Junior

So I’m sitting out in my living room and watching Disney Junior with my kids, Thing 1 and Thing 2. They are obsessed with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Junior, and I thought I would take a look at an entire episode through the lens of looking at the structure of the story.

I have gotten to be very interested in writing formulas (which are more different structures than they are “formulas”). This interest stems from some previous episodes of the podcast Writing Excuses that I have been listening to. Particularly the Hollywood Formula / 3 Act Structure, the Hero’s Cycle (as made famous by Joseph Campbell), Orson Scott Card’s M.I.C.E. Quotient, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, and the Pixar Formula. I have spent the past few years watching, or more, ignoring this show as it came on TV, but my kids eat it up like you wouldn’t believe. This made me wonder if there was something to the story being told, or if it was just likeable children’s characters, or if it was a combination of both.

According to my cable guide, the episode will be starting in 8 minutes. The synopsis provided by the info button says:

When Clarabelle Cow plans a fun scavenging hunt for her friends, Professer Von Drake lets Goofy borrow his new invention to help everyone figure out the clues.

If you are unfamiliar with the program, congratulations. On a more practical note, just about every episode I have seen consists of the characters wanting to do something, but finding out there is a problem, and then them going around fixing the problem by the end of the episode with the help of friends they meet along the way, or a set of tools they are given by some computer in the beginning of the episode, that seem like just random items. For a while now, I have been convinced that the computer is somehow related to HAL and is simply toying with Mickey and his friends, conducting an experiment to see what exactly he can put all of them through.

For this exercise, I will be examining the episode using the Hollywood Formula, the Hero’s Journey, the M.I.C.E. Quotient, and the Pixar Formula. I am leaving out Dan Harmon’s Story Circle because it is mostly the same as the Hero’s Journey, just more mainstreamed for non-epics, as Joseph Campbell focused his Hero’s Journey on stories from mythology, which mainly involved some sort of quest.

I will outline the episode four times, one for each of the story formulas I am looking at.

The easiest one, which I will discuss first is the Pixar Formula.

  • Once upon a time there was an anthropomorphic mouse named Mickey.
  • Every day he visited his magic clubhouse.
  • Until one day his friend Clarabelle Cow had a scavenger hunt set up for Mickey and his friends.
  • Because of that Mickey get the help of his friends to begin looking for the items.
  • Because of that Mickey and his friends needed to travel around, solving puzzles.
  • Until finally they had collected all of the items and finished the episode with a song.

As you can see, this is a very basic formula to use, and is not the best fit for this episode. However, if you remove the portions of what I have written above and substitute it with plot points from the original Toy Story, it fits perfectly.

The next formula is the M.I.C.E. Quotient, because there are not many parts to it.

  • Milieu (or setting): The episode begins when Mickey arrives at the clubhouse and ends when he leaves.
  • Idea: The only question that needs to be answered if “what are the items on the scavenger hunt list and where can we find them?” They answer this question X times during the episode.
  • Character: There is no character transformation in this episode.
  • Event: The only interruption from the daily lives of the characters is that there are a series of items for them to hunt down and find.

Next up is the Hollywood Formula. In this episode, the protagonist would be Mickey Mouse and Clarabelle Cow would be the antagonist, as she is the one standing in the way of Mickey obtaining the items he needs. I would say that the dynamic or relationship character in this episode is Goofy. This is because the theme of the story is supposed to come from the relationship character, and Goofy is the one using his mind to create each of their tools to obtain the items needed to fulfill the scavenger hunt. You also find out at the end that the invention given to Goofy was without batteries, so he was the one who actually thought up solutions to their problems.

Act 1 of the story begins with Mickey cresting the hill at the beginning of the episode, greeting the audience, and revealing the hidden clubhouse. The inciting incident is when Clarabelle tells them about the scavenger hunt. The entire second Act is made up of the characters looking for and bringing back the items to the clubhouse. The low point of this Act is when everyone has flown a large balloon up to the clouds to get a giant egg. In the clouds, they are the farthest from the clubhouse as possible, and they need two tools to get the egg back. 1) a basket to put the egg in and 2) a crane to lower the basket with the egg. The third Act is when everyone is home with all of the items and eating a cake made from the items they had to get for the scavenger hunt.

The last structure is the Hero’s Journey. For this purpose, we will identify Mickey Mouse as the hero of the story.

  • Call to Adventure: Clarabelle telling them about the scavenger hunt.
  • Mentor: Professor Von Drake, who gives an invention to Goofy to help him think.
  • Crossing the Adventure Threshold: leaving the clubouse to go find all of the items.
  • Helpers: Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, Chip & Dale, Minnie, and Willie the Giant
  • Trials: with each item, they need to solve a puzzle to figure out what they need to get, as well as finding the item, and returning it to the clubhouse.
  • Supreme Ordeal: the gang ends up in the clouds and they need two tools to retrieve the giant egg.
  • Flight: they literally fly back to the clubhouse in a balloon.
  • Return: they arrive back at the clubhouse where Mickey and the gang get to eat carrot cake made from the items they went to go get.

I found this exercise to be very interesting, to look at a simple story and see how it fits into some classic story structures. I hope some of you have found it interesting as well, or, at the very least, helpful in identifying the structure of stories we see every day.

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1 Response to Writing Formulas in Disney Junior

  1. Pingback: A Quick Update | K. James

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