Within any genre of writing, it is common to come across repetitive elements that play a key role in assigning each piece to its respective classification or genre. Although in each genre we are bound to find commonalities, it is crucial to define which ones play a significant role in defining the overall piece. By analyzing specific examples of writing, such as film critiques, it is expected to identify several core elements that are necessary for defining that piece as such.
These core elements are deemed necessary because they serve as the commonality that helps each writer deliver their message to an audience.
By using elements such as introductory hooks, and the inclusion of creative elements, film critics are able to advise their audiences on film quality while offering a comprehensive analysis to back up their opinions. By looking at five examples of 1990 Disney animated movie critiques, as well as the authors and their publication platforms, we are able to compare these elements to understand why they are so critical in delivering an effective message to relevant audiences.
When analyzing any kind of writing, it is critical to ask “who is the intended audience?” Authors write pieces with a purpose and audience in mind. They always have an end goal, and in order to achieve this, they must be aware of the recipient and which platform they use to deliver their message.
For film critics, audiences can vary and are typically very vast. Therefore, many critiques are published on large-scale news websites, film magazines, or newspapers.
On these expansive platforms, writers are able to reach widespread audiences searching for their expert opinions on particular films. Reviews of Disney’s The Lion King, Toy Story, Tarzan, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, all have this in common. A review of The Lion King by Kenneth Turan was published by the Los Angeles Times, which happens to be the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States, amassing a daily readership of 1.4 million and a weekly audience of 4.3 million (Los Angeles Times). Another review about Toy Story that was written by David Ansen, was published by Newsweek. Newsweek is also a leading news magazine and website that has been providing content for over 80 years (Newsweek).
A review on Tarzan that was written by Ian Nathan was published with Empire, a British film magazine that is well-known for distributing excellent film-related content. Further, Dave Kehr wrote a critique on Beauty and the Beast, which was published by The Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune was founded in 1874 and remains the most-read daily newspaper in the Chicago metropolitan area. It also happens to be the eighth-largest newspaper in the United States (Brittanica). Roger Ebert also wrote a review on the Disney Classic Aladdin. However, Roger opted not to publish with a news site or magazine. Instead, Roger has gained a tremendous following, to the point where he has his own website where he publishes his acclaimed critiques for readers. As a result of being a reputable source for cinematic criticism, Ebert is likely to reach the largest audience of the five aforementioned writers. All of these writers chose to have their work published by services with such large platforms so that they could reach their desired broad-reach audiences and effectively communicate their opinions on these films.
After a writer has identified their audience and their desired platform, they begin the process of determining how to structure their work in order to deliver their intended message. Like most pieces of writing, the authors of the five aforementioned movie critiques included an introductory hook in their writing. This is put in place in order to grasp the attention of each reader, motivating them to read the entire text. Often, for film critiques this means quoting the movie, offering a scene description, or outright providing a strong opinion. Roger Ebert, an experienced screenwriter, incorporates this into his piece on Aladdin by stating, “Robin Williams and animation were born for one another, and in “Aladdin” they finally meet. William’ speed of comic invention has always been too fast for flesh and blood; the way he flashes in and out of characters can be dizzying.” (Ebert)
The descriptive way in which Turan uses language, grabs readers’ attention prompting them to continue reading the comprehensive film review. Kenneth Turan begins his piece on The Lion King a bit differently with “A movie’s heroes may have their names above the title, but often as not it’s the sidekicks who get the real work done.” (Turan). Although still effective, this example offered more of an opinion rather than descriptive details of the film, however, it also offered insight to the plot. Dave Kehr, a notable critic for the Chicago Tribune, takes a comparable approach by stating “A new animated film from the Walt Disney Studios is still an occasion, even if that occasion has been arriving with discouraging frequency in recent years.” as the introduction for his piece on Beauty and the Beast (Kehr). This use of strong opinion right off the bat encourages the audience to continue reading in order to find out why the writer felt so strongly about the film.
As a contributor for Empire Magazine, Ian Nathan takes an approach that encompasses both opinion and descriptive elements to interest his audience. He begins his piece with “Let’s face it, Disney has been off its game of late; the recent ream of so-called ‘classics’ have been anything but. Just an admirable spray of beautifully animated yet remote tales infused with sly in-jokery for the parents and a steadfast application of tried and trusted formulaic ingredients – the big soundtrack, the comedy sidekicks, the marketing opportunities.” (Nathan). Finally, David Ansen, a long-time critic with Newsweek opts to light-heartedly address his audience with some descriptive aspects. He begins his piece with “I can safely say that before I saw this 77-minute expose I had no idea just how tough the life of a toy really was. It’s not just the rough-and-tumble, getting whacked around by some little dork who has no consideration for your feelings. It’s the insecurity, the paranoia, the anxiety!” (Ansen). In taking the first step toward creating a comprehensive film critique, all five of these writers noted the importance of a captivating hook. Without capturing an audiences’ full attention, the rest of the message can be easily lost in translation.
By initially offering a gripping introduction, each of these writers ensured that their audience would stay engaged with the full piece. Just as an introduction plays a vital role in the effectiveness of a piece of writing, the overall content is imperative to structure correctly. In film critiques, many writers reference creative elements used, such a script, visuals, setting, symbols, mood, tone, dialogue, characters, color, and music. These references are used to accurately depict what the movie consists of as well as its strengths and weaknesses. This is a critical component of a critique, as it is evidence the writers can use to back-up their opinions. Being a Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, Roger Ebert knows this best. In his critique of Disney’s Aladdin, he describes key elements of the film by stating, “Original music was one of the key qualities of both “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), and the composers of those films, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, collaborated on three songs for this one.” (Ebert). The reference to previous movies and music gives Ebert added credibility while offering his opinion on the music later in his piece.
As the artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, David Ansen is quite familiar with analyzing films and the creative elements behind them. In his critique of Toy Story, he focuses mainly on visuals when he says “Toy Story pops off the screen with a vibrancy that’s totally unlike traditional hand-painted animation.” (Ansen). The mention of this film element gives the reader a description of the film that can help them trust Ansens’ opinion. In Kenneth Turans’ critique of The Lion King, the setting is the element most focused on. When Turan says “Set in an African landscape where man is not in evidence, “The Lion King” opens with a gorgeous set-piece, a gathering at Pride Rock of animals from ants to elephants to pay homage to Simba.” (Turan). The decision to give the audience a glimpse of the movies exquisite scenery helps solidify Turans’ positive opinion of the film. Much like Turan, Dave Kehr, a curator at the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, uses setting to solidify his impression of the film Beauty and the Beast. When Kehr writes “The single most impressive setting in the film, the enchanted ballroom where the Beauty and the Beast first fall in love as they dance; has been created through computer-generated imagery.” (Kehr). Ian Nathan addresses Tarzan’s script as his focus for creative elements. He writes “The script is so sharp, and confident enough to treat the kids like adults.” (Nathan).
When all five of these writers addressed these creative elements, they were able to support their claims about the film as a whole. This is a significant piece of critique writing, because the overall goal of a critique, is to influence an audience based on expertise in the area of film. When analyzing film critiques to determine what factors and elements classify the piece as a such, it is common to come across a variety of different literary elements. In the case of film critiques, an introductory hook and inclusion of creative elements are essential. Both of these elements are used for the purpose of catching the audiences’ attention, as well as their trust, both of which are imperative in writing a successful piece.