“Who are they talking to?,” asks animator Jacob Kafka, the compiler of this YouTube video. Used with the right motivation, the “This is me…” first-person opening narrative can be an effective tool for screenwriters. Bill Peet used the trick marvelously in 101 Dalmatians by adding a surprise twist—the narrator turns out to be the dog, Pongo, and not the human Roger. Pongo’s narration is constructed with ironic wit—the dog considers the human to be his ‘pet’—and his commentary propels the story forward while simultaneously revealing the personalities of two different characters.
By contrast, most contemporary usage of this technique in feature animation comes across as artless and lazy. It becomes a shortcut for telling the audience about a character instead of showing the character’s personality through engagement with his environment. The video below will help you understand the technique and recognize its abundant usage in animated films.
Clips are from the following films:
101 Dalmatians (1961)
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
The Croods (2013)