In case you had any doubt, Pixar understands our insatiable desire for good storytelling, and this can once again be seen in it’s latest short film Piper. I have always loved Pixar’s ability to engage viewers through subtle colour choices and well-timed cues in the soundtrack, but I am truly impressed by Pixar’s deep understanding of the human need for story.
In light of some of the most recent Pixar successes such as Inside Out and Finding Dory, I feel that some of Pixar’s greatest storytelling comes before their feature films even begin–I am referring of course to the mastery of the Pixar short films. And while there a number of noteworthy Pixar shorts that I could highlight, I want to draw attention to the most recent Pixar short called Piper (showing before Finding Dory). If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch it below (it’s only 6 minutes…you can spare 6 minutes!).
Pixar’s storytelling is masterful because it helps its audience forget that the main character is actually a bird–a character I’m assuming most of us can’t identify with. Yet, as I watched this short film, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story in spite of the fact that I don’t have feathers, I love the water, and I don’t eat food off of the sand (or at least I try really hard not to). This got me thinking: What can I learn about storytelling from this experience? How can I engage a larger audience who may not be able to directly relate to my situation? Here are three things that I think Pixar’s Piper teaches us about storytelling
3 Things Piper Teaches Us About Storytelling
1. Focus on the Theme
Far too often I have been guilty of getting my stories stuck in the boggy bottoms of descriptive mire. How often do we launch into stories trying to give our audiences a mental image and actually forget to communicate something more complex than the colour of the autumn leaves? Yes, stories need to include setting. And yes, we should spend sometime giving our characters a soul. But really, the connecting force that will engage and connect audiences to our stories will be the themes we choose. After all, it seems that more than just ornithologist are delighted by Piper.
2. Focus on a Universal Theme
I know, I know, themes are generally in and of themselves universal, thus making them “themes,” but some themes are generally more universal than others. Themes that involve identity, love, courage, and fear get a lot of traction because these are issues that people of all races, religions, and creeds struggle with. In our own storytelling, it’s important to clearly communicate the theme, but we also want to make sure we are getting at the heart of the theme. The success of a film like Piper is in its ability to make the audience forget that they are watching a movie about a bird. After a few moments, we tend to forget the bird and focus on the plight of the bird–overcoming fear–which is a universal theme of the grandest order.
3. Communicate Themes Using Metaphors
This one can be a bit more difficult if you are not familiar with the structure of stories or the literary devices that good stories often use. With that in mind, we often use metaphors without even realizing it. Case in point–the whole story of Piper is actually a metaphor for our lives. The bird’s fear of water represents our fears. So, when Piper overcomes his fear of the water, we are caught up in the delight because we see ourselves in Piper’s success. When we use universal themes in our own storytelling, we are giving others the opportunity to connect with and be caught up in our stories. Don’t overlook opportunities to tell stories about trees, birds, dogs, fish, or the like if they are connected to a greater theme.
These are just a few of my thoughts after watching Pixar’s Piper. If you would like to know more about how to engage and connect people with your own stories, please read more articles about storytelling on The Wise Imagination or connect with The Wise Imagination page on Facebook. You can also check out my online storytelling class Ten Story High: A Storytelling Masterclass.