Story and Style
Pooch is a tried and tested 'heroes journey,' 'kid with a dog' story, but with it's own twists and takes on the theme. I haven't seen a mentally deranged AI dog before, for example. The humor is wacky and off beat, as are the plot lines, characters and elements. I am a fan of traditional story telling structure but I am no fan of schmaltz. I think viewers are quick to smell a rat, and a healthy mix of the sacred and the profane (within obvious limits) makes far more powerful and engaging story telling.
For instance, Pooch is not just a cute and cuddly dog. He is no Bambi or Scooby Doo (though I loved them both). There is a chaotic edge to Pooch that is unpredictable. He is quite Gremlin like with something of Gollum from Lord of the Rings thrown in. It's Pooch's 'apparent' bungling and random craziness that pushes Alfie into situations that he must overcome. It's hard to tell if Pooch has a real understanding of repercussions. He often seems to throw Alfie under the bus, but I used that 'random' nature to propel the narrative structure of their adventure.
We see the world through Alfie's eyes. It is a world full of crazy adults doing crazy things. Alfie is challenged in every way, but he is dryly reconciled to his failings. He's a loner who doesn't fit in. He would love to be an explorer or an astronaut, but he gets travel sick, nose bleeds, and is afraid of heights and the dark. So, he is hardly equipped for the adventures Pooch gets him into. Pooch and Alfie set out to rescue their folks and along the way they meet with Red Oggy and The Great Seer, two characters who give them advice and guidance, as they head toward their eventual confrontation with The Dark One. So we are dealing with very traditional story structure.
So, exactly how wacky and off beat is this story?
With a battle cry up "Up Yabutski," the people of Yabutskistan were a once proud people. Before oil was discovered they built an entire empire that stretched from Rancho Cucamonga to Mentebello, trading goat dung. When oil was dicovered they almost vanished into the mists of time. But, Nible, the Yabutski leader, has heard about Alfie's Dad's perpetual motion machine and, consumed with a thirst for power, has sent Nudnuk and Shnoot (pictured above) to steal the machine, bring down the price of oil, and thus return Yabutskistan back to its former glory. Of course their logic is completely flawed...it's kinda wacky.
While The Lord of the Rings has "The Ring of Power," this story has "The Machine." If I tell you Alfie has a dream in which it is the hands of "The Dark One" that turn the handle of the machine, then you might get the idea where I was going with the metaphor. But, while the machine looks innocent enough, but there is something sinister about the machine. We always hear eerie music when it is on screen. For some people, the machine casts its spell and they desire it above all else. The newly sworn in President of the USA, who looks like Alec Baldwin, desires it more than anything. Alec Baldwin? Yep. There is a Hillary Clinton look-alike midget in the film too, and other cameos, but you can meet all of those in the script.
The Dark One
The Dark One is building a portal in Becky's basement so he can enter this earthly realm. It is his evil influence that is behind everything that is going wrong, and everybody's crazy behavior. And while Alfie and Pooch have to save their folks, who have been kidnapped by the Yabutski's, their ultimate goal is to defeat The Dark One.
Christmas is approaching in Bupkes Idowa, the small town where our adventure is set. And yet there are no Christmas carols playing in the stores, no decorations on the streets or Santa's and Reindeer's lit up in lights on people's lawns. They did put up the Christmas tree in the town square, but it is not lit. Why? Because The Dark One is making everyone forget. If The Dark One can make everyone forget that one special day, Christmas, that unites all of humanity in feelings of good will, then he has won.
Yes, it's wacky, but..
I like wacky. Wacky comes out of left field so it feels more surprising to me. But, I truly believe the easiest moment to make people cry is just after you made them laugh. All of the films I love are a roller coaster ride of feelings and emotions. I love whimsy and magic and my eye is on those emotional and magical moments while writing. But my sense is they can be complete saccharine without an equal dose of rambunctious chaos and irreverence, I think of it as 'the sacred and the profane' but of course the profane is not profanity. I think the primary job I have as a filmmaker is to give people what they want- an incredible ride.
The themes that drove the writing are about a kid trying to grow up in a world full of chaos that makes no sense, unless you recognize the madness that shapes our world, our driving motivations, as misplaced and flawed; people chasing power, wealth or celebrity, consumerism devouring the planet, a misplaced sense of priorities in terms of what is truly valuable. I hope the themes are well hidden; I am with William Goldman- "If you want to send a message, use Wells Fargo."
I think it is correct that themes drive the writer, I think they provide an underpinning to the story telling, a weight or substance that the audience might only just feel as a shadow in the background, but that doesn't stop them from getting a thrilling ride.
The metaphors in The Lord of the Rings, for example, seem obvious. But of course Tolkien denied he intended them, and perhaps that is exactly as it should be. The military machine tearing down tress to make fires for smelting weapons in the fires of Isengard seemed pretty obvious to me. I think an audience must feel some of that, but regardless, they still very much latch on to the friendship of Sam and Frodo. I think the idea of confirming those ideas; friendship, the idea of bravery, ethics and honor, that bleed off every page of The Lord of the Rings, is vital today, and certainly forms a background to Pooch and Alfie's adventures.
Another related theme was the idea that we have completely lost sight of the incredible miracle that our existence actually is. We seem so preoccupied with 'getting ahead' or even just surviving, to remember that we are alive on this incredible planet spinning impossibly through a dark universe. The Great Seer tells Alfie that no matter how small he thinks he is, he is in actual fact "an Empire State sized human being" and that "potential cannot be measured by size," pointing to the idea that each of our lives have deep meaning, we really don't have to search for it, we just need to notice how wonderful it really is and be brave enough to live it.
I credit Richard Bach's book "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" with actually saving my life. And the lessons he taught me are reflected here for Alfie; the idea that you don't have to fit in, that each of us can find our own road. Hopefully the comedic delivery by the blustering Great Seer will give levity while the lesson is passed along. My aim is to be life affirming without being saccharine, to wrap those sentiments in packets of irreverence and slapstick chaos.
The Pooch screenplay is complete. As it stands it works as a complete blue print, but it is really quite odd how animated characters, once placed in the scenes, begin to speak their own lines as real actors would on a set. So, the script will remain very much a work in progress. My guiding light is that people come away feeling life could actually be magical and good, because I think it actually is...and of course have a thrilling ride along the way.