Friday, January 13, 2017

Podcast Episode 3: Laika Notes (the super-size episode)

So here we have the long-awaited third episode of the Secrets of Story Podcast, hosted by myself and James Kennedy! WARNING: This episode is a special jumbo-sized departure from our normal format. In our first episode I attempted to fling away an idea about Laika the Space Dog, but then James caught it and decided to write it himself as a 70-page screenplay, so for this episode James made a tape in which he and his niece and nephew read the script out loud, then I listen to the tape and give notes, while James responds to in real time. The result is entertaining, but long, as the final product came in at a whopping 2 hours and 10 minutes, so this episode might just be for die-hard fans only. For the rest of you, come back for episode four, where we’ll return to our normal svelte, fighting weight! In the meantime, download this one here or


James Kennedy said...

And if you want to follow along with the script of "Laika and the Blue Mouse," you can download the PDF here: http://jameskennedy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Laika-and-the-Blue-Mouse-SECRETS-OF-STORY.pdf

Not to protest too much, but this script is something I banged out in 3 days, as a goofy experiment to see if I could write Matt's idea quickly. It was fun to do that! But I accept that it isn't a classic for all time. My idea is to see how a rough first draft would benefit from Matt's critiques. It wouldn't be as fun if I gave him something polished.

So I don't take umbrage at any of Matt's criticisms in this podcast, and I won't take umbrage at any of the criticisms in the comments. I'm an umbrageless man. (I also understand if folks want to skip this episode. 2+ hours, yeesh! Sorry!)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Heh - I share Matt's immediate dislike of hitmen in movies. Though unlike him, I’ll admit part of that is a function of age. The Great Tarantino Explosion hit during my college years, souring me on hitmen as characters. Often they were nothing more than vehicles to escalate drama cheaply and they felt like creatures of film rather than honest human characters.

Maybe the story could be reworked where Laika’s buddy is Arkady the cockroach. She protects him, slips him food, keeps him warm. When the time comes for the space shot, Arkady hitches a ride, because no one else cares about him and he won’t let her risk her life without him. They get snapped up by the aliens. Laika is put into the contest of recent space-faring races. To her joy, Laika dominates the competition but along the way Arkady sneaks around and meets Blue Mouse. Mouse explains that the winner of the contest dooms his or her planet. He knows this because he won the previous competition. Arkady lets Laika know what’s up. Arkady wants to get the hell out. Laika considers winning anyway – screw Earth, it’s terrible – then has a moment of awakening and instead plots revolution. Arkady agrees to help because what the hell else can he do.

Laika is the heart, Arkady the gut, Blue Mouse the head. Laika is about duty and loyalty; Arkady is about eating and romancing lady cockroaches or anything that bears a sufficiently close resemblance to a lady cockroach; Blue Mouse is the one who knows what’s going on and guides us through the Cosmos Most Wacky, an emotionally dead being overwhelmed by his loss.

Laika appeals to Blue Mouse to help screw up the aliens’ plan. Don’t let another planet die! The appeal works. Their plan, however, does not. The planet Earth is destroyed in November 1957. Laika and Arkady are the last survivors. They and Blue Mouse set off across the cosmos to mess with the Incompetent and Evil Star Empire to stop future planet-cides and, possibly, find a new home for themselves.

This would crunch the pilot down to thirty minutes, have a “holy crap” moment, set up for future stories, etc. The heart of the story would be Laika and Arkady turning Blue Mouse and the three of them trying to prevent the destruction of the Earth. They do succeed in most parts of the venture, but in that final bit, whoops.

Future episodes could feature Laika and company helping a planet throw off the shackles of the I&ESE via silly Rick-and-Morty style misadventures, hitching rides with Space Pirates, Arkady becoming God-King of a planet of bugs, and the problems that rise up when Blue Mouse’s self-control cracks and he becomes an unrelenting yet terribly cute rage-storm of destruction.

Eh, just spitballin’. Getting Laika to make moral choices is tough, given the setup.

Hearing the script performed clarified why the Giant Evil Alien Babies didn’t work for me. The script leans on the weirdness of the image too much, and the joke simply wears itself out. After the first scene, it’s not funny anymore. A few revisions to increase joke density with them – not all baby-related stuff, either - and there ya go.

Person of Interest said...

I'm new to the blog, but I've bought and read Matt's book and listened to the other podcasts... very much enjoying it all. Read Laika too. I wanted to get my Laika notes in before the notes podcast -- Arrrgh. Alas. It was not to be. So, yeah, I listened to the whole thing. It wasn't bad at all. The kids were great readers. A+ reading. And listening to Matt's sparse notes (and James' defensive pushback) kept me on the edge of my seat. I like Matt's book -- I think he has real, fresh, insight into a lot of screenplay storytelling issues. So I was shocked to see how much we differed on Laika. Well, they don't let judges preside over cases that involve their family. Doctors don't operate on their own children (or is that urban legend?) -- and notes guys shouldn't give notes on their own cast-off ideas!

For what's it's worth I like Harvey J's notes a lot.

Well, so here I am, I feel like I'm showing up at the party when the keg's flat and the cops came by to turn the music down hours ago and all the cups are ashtrays and there's just this chunky passed-out mexican looking guy in a metallica t-shirt sleeping with his head under the couch.

Here's a few comments anyway...

1. James has demonstrated what one can do when one gets out of his own way. Holy fooking crap! I cannot believe you wrote that much screenplay, that well, that fast. I'm filled with admiration by which I mean murderous envy. Man I wish I could do like that! James, I want to buy or rent your ability to turn off your inner critic and then just flow.

2. I totally agree with Matt that it is not a pilot. At the moment it's an animated feature. Laika could be reconceived as a pilot but it would have to change a good bit. It might also be a script for a graphic novel. Sadly, animated feature specs are, according to Scriptnotes, unsellable.

3.James, Matt was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too soft on Laika. He let all kinds of stuff stand that shouldn't. I'm in awe of your productivity and imaginative talent and creative energy and your infectious delight in silliness and your willingness to take risks and your considerable charm as a stylist -- but there's lots of non-awesome stuff in that first draft that needs to be readdressed/reconceived. You said you were ok with tough notes, so I'm not going to pull my punches. I have a zillion notes on specific things -- I won't bother to share all that -- but there's one really big global note:

{snip... have to split this into two posts... I went over the max character count for one post}

Person of Interest said...

The big global note:
Matt is more than right about Laika being too passive, too non-protagonist and that Mouse becomes sort of the default protagonist. Let's not mince words about what that means: When your protagonist isn't a protagonist: you have no story... and Laika the screenplay has no story. Seriously. It has a plot, (a workable plot) but no story. Your protagonist has no character no personality nothing. She has a tag-line "I'm a good dog" -- but it's never developed never explored with any story power, or comic power. All the best stuff in the script, and there's lots, is off to the side. The main players are a bore. Don't tell me at least Mouse is good, he isn't. Mouse does stuff, mouse has a cool role to play -- he's active as hell, he's really the center of the action most of the time. Matt starts calling him the protagonist by the end, so that must mean he's a "good character" -- well, no he isn't. He's undercooked, his personality is non existent. He struggles morally with nothing. He has no distinctive voice. He wants nothing very badly. He's a planetary hitman but he's actually pretty dull. And his relationship with Laika is flat. I'm not just saying that Mouse and Laika need to be fizzed up. They do, they absolutely do need to be fizzed up, but first before you can vivify their presence, they need to be actual dramatic characters with an actual character-story.

Both Mouse and Laika should be people we come to understand are badly in need of change, so badly we can feel it. The need personalities and voices that make the most of their flaws, that make their flaws present in every scene. They need a relationship that makes them instrumental in bringing about change in each other.

Character is story. It's all over Matt's book! Why he let you off the hook on Laika I have no idea.

The thing is I think what you've got is ready for a story. I mean the pieces are in place, the stage is set. I have specific ideas for what the characterstory might be... but I'm starting to feel long winded and presumptuous.

But I do want to weigh in on the ass-vodka and the baby aliens. Vulgar comedy is not for everyone. I'm guessing Matt isn't a big fan of Adam Sandler or South Park. But Ass-vodka is the most memorable image in the whole screenplay. Give that script to 100 people and 100 of them will mention the ass vodka. What the script needs isn't less ass-vodka, it needs more provocative, funny, fresh laughs, vulgar or not. So, for example, I don't think Arkady should be coughed up. He should emerge, slowly, triumphantly, in extreme gooey close up, to the strains of Fanfare for the Common Man, or the theme from Rocky, or Thus Spake Zarathustra, from a steaming pile of dogshit.

The alien babies are horribly annoying. They remind me of a Captain Underpants story. Doesn't he fight a giant baby? pretty sure I recall him doing that? But they have potential. They're pretty absurd, make them worse. They need to be weirder. Snake heads? Maybe they could be voices emanating from a writhing twisting snakeball of naked babies? When they beam in couldn't they be, I don't know, the size of Jupiter ... floating in space... planet smashing chaotic psychopathic babies. He can still poop a gun and shoot it, it shoots moons. This necessitating some clever way of defeating them. Like everybody singing/howling/flarpflarping them to sleep and then pushing them gently into a nearby star to be incinerated. I would love to see them burn, I know harvey's with me on that. Your aliens are first draft absurd. Keep going they need to be final draft absurdly funny and weird.

One last note. I thought I was the only one who hated hitmen. I thought I was alone in the world. Godbless you all. Hitmen. Not mice hitmen, but the kind with suits and sunglasses, they are over!

James Kennedy said...

This is all great!

Harvey Jerkwater and Person of Interest, I agree with you both, probably more than you'd guess. You both have great notes. Thank you for taking the time with this weird experiment!

It's true, Person of Interest, that Laika and Blue Mouse ain't much of anything right now, too passive etc., and you're right not to let me or Matt off the hook on that. Laika and the Blue Mouse don't have much character, not much of a relationship. That has to be addressed in any future drafts, if this experiment might indeed turn into a future draft. It's jejune! Very jejune! "Never explored with any story power, or comic power... the main players are a bore"... you're right. When you said "Both Mouse and Laika should be people we come to understand are badly in need of change, so badly we can feel it" I sat up and took notice. That's a great mantra we should all keep in mind all the time!

I think Person of Interest is right, and Matt is wrong -- instead of avoiding absurdity, I should rather steer into the skid of absurdity -- when Person of Interest wrote "I don't think Arkady should be coughed up. He should emerge, slowly, triumphantly, in extreme gooey close up, to the strains of Fanfare for the Common Man, or the theme from Rocky, or Thus Spake Zarathustra, from a steaming pile of dogshit," it felt more right to me than what Matt was saying. That is, if I read Person of Interest correctly, then instead of omitting the ass-vodka, I should ass-vodka-ize more of the script. "He can still poop a gun and shoot it, it shoots moons" -- the sentiment behind this note is 100% correct, I think. Go whole hog with ridiculousness! When Person of Interest says "What the script needs isn't less ass-vodka, it needs more provocative, funny, fresh laughs, vulgar or not," I agree.

I also love Harvey's notes, especially his ideas for future episodes ("Arkady becoming God-King of a planet of bugs"!). And the idea that the Blue Mouse knows that the Earth is going to be destroyed because, he, the Blue Mouse, won the previous competition is gold. (Twist: or maybe the Blue Mouse lost, and his home planet is destroyed, and so he's kinda-sorta responsible?! Maybe he lies to Laika that he won and that's why he knows, but then it comes out later that the reason he knows is because he lost and his planet was destroyed and it's his "fault" but he has too much pride to admit it?!)

I'm lucky to have your perspicacious eyeballs on this goofy first-draft. I will probably abandon it here, it was only for fun, but I think there are lessons we can learn from these jejune works-in-progress that we can't learn from the polished final scripts. Anybody who wants to write these scripts will be in the situation of having a bad first draft. How do you improve that bad first draft? That's why I put this out there, and I'm heartened and inspired that folks have taken this seriously and actually given thoughtful critiques.

I promise next episode of the podcast will be much less self-indulgent. But I am thankful that Harvey and Person of Interest took the time to engage with this seriously. We're all learning from each other and I love it.

Matt Bird said...

Thanks for your in-depth comments everyone!

Person of Interest, you're the first person ever to say I'm not hard enough on James! Even if I'd been inclined to drop the hammer in the way you suggest, I wouldn't do it: I've found that with writers, it never works to say "This is fundamentally insufficient to its task!" Far better to accept the work for what it is and then gently nudge it in the direction you want it to go. It's impossible for a writer not to get emotionally invested in what they've written, even if it's just tossed off, and that sort of out-right criticism inevitably feels like a personal attack, which it's not intended to be.

Person of Interest said...

Matt, I agree with what you are saying, completely, as a general principle. And I never wanted you to be harder on James (although I put it that way -- shame on me), I wanted you to be harder on his screenplay. But criticism above a certain "constructive" threshold feels like an assault. I get it.
The only place you lose me, just a little, is saying that a writer gets emotionally invested in the work "even if it's just tossed off." -- that's the heart of the issue in this specific case, and I think it's worth exploring.

I'm in awe of James. He has the creative fire to write that much that quickly, the intelligence and wit to do it so entertainingly, and the guts to put it out on the freakin' internet and take his lumps -- In awe. No bullshit.

Every writer has a process. James has a startling process that allows him to produce a lot of work very fast. My notes to James, and my grievance with your notes -- involve our different approaches to James's process. I don't think a screenplay written in three days gets the same treatment as one that's been carefully outlined and researched and labored over for six months or a year or more. The investments are different.

By the way, I'm NOT criticizing James's process. I think it's extraordinary.

But James wrote the central question of all when he said something like: everyone will face bad drafts. How to improve them?

That's it. That's everything. We all face that, for sure, and improvement is never guaranteed! Writing is hard. Rewriting is different and just as hard. Improvement is not guaranteed. You can labor over something for years, uselessly. James, like the rest of us, needs a way to get from a bad first draft to a great final draft. -- To do that, I think that he needs to grapple forthrightly with the strengths and weaknesses of his remarkable process.

If you're capable of writing 70 decent screenplay pages in 3 days, (and 99.9999% of humanity is NOT capable of that) you are a special case.

to be cont.

Person of Interest said...

The strength of writing like James is that you grapple with your imagination and your material in a way that pre-writing doesn't. Truly writing in draft-form gets to the nitty-gritty in a way that outlines, plans, spitball sessions, don't. It generated a pair of hilarious russian scientists, a story world, a plot with possibilities, a blue mouse-in-progress, horrible horrible alien babies, Arkady and either a giant funny or the most tone deaf bit of not-funny ever be put on screen: the ass-vodka spigot, and a lot more.

BUT working fast and freely allows giant flaws. "Hey, my story is broken. I forgot to give my protagonist a personality or anything to do. Auuuugh." Well, a profoundly flawed first draft screenplay happens to people working slowly too! When you work the way James does I think it should expected and no big deal.

To me, a three day screenplay first draft is more spitball than draft... it is committed to nothing. Everything is still up for debate. The whole thing can be completely rethought and probably needs to be.

But in retrospect, I suppose that's not for me to declare, it's for James.

That said, I do think it is appropriate for the note-giver to say, 'hey, slow down, this isn't as far along as you think, and you aren't committed to anything unless you want to be. This is a good time to consider big changes.' If there's ever a time to get 'fundamental flaws' notes it's when you are three days in! Well, ok, being three days yet 70 screenplay pages in is -- unusual. James has totally skewed my sense of what 70 pages is! My usual sense is that if you can write 70 original screenplay pages in a month you are a hero. Now I'm like, eh, what's the big deal? throw away that 70 page draft like it's a used hanky, what the hell it's just three days work.) Well, anyway, I know that if something has fundamental holes better to hear about it three days in, rather than three years, no matter how many pages.

Matt, for all the reasons you gave, being respectful and gentle with writers' work is generally a good policy. Writers want constructive criticism. They don't usually want to be told, 'Big problems. Keep the good stuff but you will need to crumple it up and start over.' More importantly they don't respond well to being told that. I know you are right. I know you are right from experience. I think Laika is a special case because I'm insisting James see himself as three days in (rather than a 70 page draft in, which is the other perspectitve) on another writer's cast off idea. Even then, though, I see your point.

Vlad said...

Just wanted to say that I am a fan of the ass vodka bit, and I am skeptical of doctrinaire advice that says to excise irrelevant darlings that do not serve and support the story with perfect economy. Great literature and film is full of delightful irrelevancies. You could stage Romeo and Juliet without Mercutio's fantasia speech -- it doesn't matter and it steals the stage from our heroes. But Shakespeare couldn't resist indulging his wonderful discovery, and though Mercutio might as well have appeared in some other play, literature is richer for his intrusion into Romeo & Juliet.

Of course, you shouldn't let your delightful irrelevancy invade and smother the rest of your story. It shouldn't carry on as long as it does in Laika, perhaps. And you might look for ways to make it more relevant. But it's a fun little bit and your instinct, James, that it's the most special part of your story should not be dismissed. As many wise writing gurus will tell you (see Anne Lamott on Shitty First Drafts) the function of the first draft is to discover what your story really is, and usually what you learn is that your story is something quite different than the idea you began with.

James Kennedy said...

I love the sincere and serious engagement everyone is bringing to this. I like the community that's springing up here!

Thanks, Person of Interest, for highlighting the advantage of writing quickly without planning. I too think that one can discover some fun and idiosyncratic things in the heat of burning first-draft passion -- things that a sober, responsible outline will never give you. The lack of commitment lets one feel free, it keeps the process fun, it lets the writing be fun, and so you want to do it, you produce more.

And Vlad, thanks for coming to the defense of the ass-vodka, and your principled defense of delightful irrelevancies and Mercutio-ism (the liveliest character in that play by far). When I discovered Matt and I disagreed on "Rick and Morty," it made me take his all his subsequent comedy notes with a grain of salt. Just like you, I am also a fan of delightful irrelevancies -- indeed, delightful irrelevancies is pretty much the theme of my book. Not to speak for Matt, but knowing Matt's sensibilities, I know if Matt had had a whack at editing my book, he might have been successful in "streamlining" it, but probably at the cost of the very things that make me love it, and motivated me to write it in the first place.

I've always hated the phrase "kill your darlings," if only because it's so bro-ish and dudely. Only a man would've coined it, and I don't think Faulkner even believed it himself -- go read his great books, delightful irrelevance is all over the place! "Kill your darlings" is one-size-fits-all, hypermasculine, stupid advice, the kind of thing that James Frey might bark at himself while he's staring in the mirror doing shirtless biceps curls.

Person of Interest said...

I'm gonna try to fact check myself with the internet but I'm roughly confident that kill your darlings wasn't Faulkner. Working without a net I believe it was said to F. Scott Fitzgerald (regarding Gatsby) by A) John Dos Pass B) Ford Maddox Ford C) Max Perkins ... However I've been told by an authority on all matters literary that you will never be contradicted if all American epigrams are attributed to Mark Twain and all British to George Bernhard Shaw.

But... consulting the Google Oracle of Truth... the envelope please, Ms. Internette -- and the winner is ...ahhh...:

Arthur Quiller Couch!


Boy-o did I whiff... my guys weren't even in the conversation! And it's ...'murder your darlings,' not slaughter or kill. But Faulkner apparently is most frequently cited. Only facty dweebs like myself would check this. I'm taking this personally. I've read a lot of a Faulkner, my wife worked at what was once his literary agency and she pilfered me a few of his glossy 8x10 publicity portraits -- they're lying around her somewhere. ...I read all of Sound and the Fury without skipping any pages! How could I not have heard this before?

James Kennedy said...

Wow! I had no idea. Thanks for doing the legwork on that, Person of Interest!

Calvin Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
McL said...

Great work, James! There was lots of interesting stuff in there. I loved the gag/pay off of the missing body parts. I agree with Matt that the ass vodka was a bit too hitting you over the head with the joke, but I wouldn't ditch it, just rework how it's presented.

One thing that bothered me, that no one else has really mentioned, is that it's set in the communist USSR, and deals with the idea of revolution, and group unity, but doesn't have a clear political opinion put forward.

Laika is an alpha, but one who works for other's goals. This sets her up to have a crisis in confidence in her system of pack mentality, which is not explored. She should be thinking about the USSR, and the Galactic Empire. Are the Fidbiglians the Alphas who unquestioningly do the work of the honchos, like Laika does? Is loyalty to a corrupt system not a virtue? What does it mean to be a good dog? What is a better system?

Blue Mouse, is a hitman, who is all about the money, and thus representing a bad side of capitalism. It looks like he's won over by communism by the end? All three of them can share a spaceship. There's no need to loot the mothership.

What is Arkady advocating for beyond the current cruel leadership? Does Arkady advocate for a preferred organizational structure? What does he employ with his roaches? Or is he just the revolutionary who always complains but has nothing better to put in its place once the organization is toppled (like the guy who says "I don't want to go there for lunch" but doesn't have a another suggestion). This would be a comedic moment, if he was the one organizing the other contestants, but when he was asked "so what do we do now?" the wind was finally out of his sails, and they realized he was just a windbag. Which then allows Laika to be the active hero, and step in and take over from her assistant and tell everyone how to not just resist, but rebuild afterwards.

I think a good second draft might address these ideas more clearly when re-working the characters into characters. The themes of politics are so overtly apparent, and yet not purposefully engaged with, that it seems like a shame not to explore.

James Kennedy said...

Brian, these are great points about exploiting the writing opportunities of the political ideas that are already kind of there in the script. Fool that I am, I didn't even see all the potential there. Your comment suddenly opened up a lot of possibilities to me. When you said "the themes of politics are so overtly apparent, and yet not purposefully engaged with, that it seems like a shame not to explore"--I think that's dead-on correct. Great insight . . . and actually now I'm starting to feel I have a critical mass of notes from very smart people that I can use to write a second draft of this script (if only for funsies)! Thanks, Brian, and thanks everyone else too!

Person of Interest said...

Hey James...

As long as this topic is still open for comment... Matt and I had previously discussed my 'big-fail' criticism (including my criticism of Matt not being harder on you) and I repented/recanted -- but now, well, reading Matt's own notes advice in the "losing my religion section" I'm back to advocating 'big rewrite' notes early.

Matt: -- "What I Used to Think: Your early readers will tell you if your hero isn’t interesting enough or if you have the wrong structure.

What I Now Realize: Early readers are always willing to point out plot holes and tone problems, but they’re reluctant to point out problems they had with the characters or the structure. You have to push them to get those notes out of them."

That's from the "Losing my religion" series on CC -- I love that whole losing my religion section.

Anyway, James, if you're thinking about giving Laika another go I feel duty bound to add a couple notes -- ... (cont.)

Person of Interest said...

I don't know if you're happy with the take you had for Laika and are pushing on in the same vein, or if you are considering bigger 'reconceive' type changes. My notes here involve stuff that isn't in your firstdraft but which I think desever consideration.

The big one is Laika's abandonment -- being shot into space, to die -- it's absolutely gut-wrenching. It feels like a natural emotional center for the first part of the movie and for Laika's character. It's the kind of deeply sorrowful resonant emotional core that audiences connect to, and that can underlie tragedy or comedy. That sadness that gives your zany stuff something to push off, something to oppose. It's not that her abandonment wasn't in your draft at all, it definitely is there... but it isn't built to, I the reader don't feel it like I could, it doesn't matter to Laika like it might. So, I think we should really feel Laika is the last to know she's been sent to die. That naive brave innocence is something I think people can connect to. It's got a lot of the stuff Matt talks about good story needing. Laika's abandonment as a kind of universal fear we all have or can connect to -- fear of betrayal, fear that the people we love are only pretending to love us back. And classic dramatic irony. The audience is ahead of Laika, we know she's going to be hurt when she learns how uncared for she was long before she does. I feel like theres a big tender heart available for Laika that your first draft hadn't found.

... How this connects to blue mouse is another topic... blue mouses relationship to Laika in the beginning is very full fledged. He gives her help and instruction from start to finish. Blue mouse's relationship with Laika needs to evolve and I think it should be tailored to play into/ reflect/ comment on/ Lakka's story.... Blue mouse needs trust issues of his own. His character journey could be from villiany to good, or from cynic to getting dragged into caring about Laika and her concerns (the Han Solo/Rick Blaine cynic-with-a-heart-of-gold arc)... Give that Mouse/Laika relationship change and dimension.

I feel like working with Laika's tragic situation and connecting it Blue Mouse will almost certainly take your story in some new directions. Finding other dogs in space -- the idea Matt gave as the starting prompt is fun but I don't think the contests between the other dogs are essential -- except as FURTHER people treating the dogs (wounded innocents, all?) as disposable worthless things. It should rankle. I think giving your heart, and getting it stepped on, is something to build the Laika story around (as opposed o the plot -- although I recently saw a you tube of Paul Thomas Anderson talking about plot vs story using them in exactly the opposite sense I do...so maybe I'm confused)

James Kennedy said...

Person of Interest, this is great advice!

I especially like the tip of spending more energy on Laika's feeling of abandonment--I think you're right, if handled correctly it can give the zanier stuff "something to push off of," as you said. There's a reason so many Pixar movies have gut-wrenching sadness in them!

I also think you're right that we should see the relationship between Blue Mouse and Laika evolve more.

Connecting Laika-abandonment and Laika-and-Blue-Mouse-relationship-evolution will certainly, as you helpfully suggest, send the story in new and more fertile directions.

Between this and all the other advice, I feel well-equipped to tackle a second draft (though not anytime soon; first I have to get through this season of my film festival!)