Disney Discussions: Can You Make a Movie Without a Plot? (Bambi)

I need your opinion on something. Yes, you trying to fill the wee hours of the night with whatever is left on the internet. Is a plot really that necessary in movies? See, here’s the thing…

Tell me the plot to Bambi. (Patient pause.) You can’t. There isn’t one. It’s a biopic about a cartoon deer. He learns to walk, plays on the ice, loses his mother, fights for a girl, and escapes from a fire. The end. There is no continuous plot thread and it doesn’t follow a multi-act structure. It’s just a series of events.

And it’s AMAZING!

The MICE quotient. 

Have you ever heart of the MICE quotient? It’s the four things that make up any story: milieu (the world), ideas, characters, and events. Different movies and books focus on different aspects. Truly good stories combine all four in amazing ways. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example. The town is full and rich, the ideas of anti-discrimination still ring, the characters are memorable, and the basic plot of a white lawyer defending a black man in the 1930s is intriguing.

So back to the question: can you make a good movie without a plot? I would say yes as long as you focus on something else. Bambi focused on two: world and characters.

Bambi 3

The world of Bambi owes much of its beauty to the artwork. It truly looks and feels like a thick, heavy forest. The blustery snow impedes vision like a real blizzard would. And the Disney animators apparently spent a lot of time watching milk droplets to get the raindrops right. The environment comes to life in every frame. The animals, personified as they are, still seem like real animals, and who can forget the beauty and danger of the meadow? A strong world full of well-thought-out locations and realistic inhabitants create a memorable place. Further Examples: Hogwarts, Bedford Falls, Tatooine.

And the characters of Bambi are even more memorable–even without Disney’s merciless marketing! Bambi, Thumper, and Flower are household names. Their transition into adulthood is way too real because we all remember when we were first “twitterpated.” And darn it, they are cute! Characters stick with you and characters drive the plot.  Bambi’s characters may not do all that much or grow very far, but we remember them.

I think plot is overrated. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said that writing is more discovery than creation. You’re an archaeologist and all the writing tricks are your tools for unearthing this masterpiece. But plot is the jackhammer. It’s a large, reckless, unforgiving machine that can wreck any find. It must be used very carefully or it will ruing all four pieces of MICE.

Worlds are skeletal and bland if the plot is just barreling through them. Ideas are forced, awkward afterthoughts if the plot rules all. Characters will contradict themselves if convenient for the plot. Yes, even events can be ruined by the plot. Haven’t you seen a movie with convenient coincidences or an out-of-nowhere miraculous save, or a magical, world-threatening object with no explanation whatsoever?

However, when a film like Bambi takes a risk and eliminates the standard plot format, a film can last for generations.

But what do you think? Is plot the lazy writer’s go-to device? Can it be fun? What movies have you seen where the plot wrecked everything?

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