Let’s look at the climactic scene in Zootopia. If you haven’t seen the movie, then stop right now, because I’m about to spoil everything, but even if you have seen it, you could probably use a refresher:
- Officer Hopps and conman Nick Wilde have discovered what is making predators go savage: blue balls of rage toxin shot out of a gun. They’re taking the gun back to the police as evidence when they unexpectedly run into Mayor Bellweather as they go through a natural history museum. She asks for the gun, but wonder how she knew they would be there and run for cover. She ends up with the gun and shoots Nick, who seems to turn savage and attack Hopps. Bellweather brags about her plan as Nick attacks Hopps, but then they reveal that Nick was just acting: they had replaced the toxin pellet with a blueberry, and Hopps hand recorded Bellweather on her recorder pen. Bellweather is arrested.
- First of all, the movie needs to set up the villain fake-out, where we realized that the villain has been right there in front of us the whole time.
- Next, Hopps and Nick had to have three items on them: The gun, a blueberry, and a sound recorder.
- Finally, the movie needs to set up the hero fake-out. The heroes pull off a fake-out on the end not just on the villain, but also on the audience, and that has to be set up as well.
Hitchcock talked about “elevator moments”: moments in mysteries that didn’t really make sense, but you don’t realize that until later. This is a variation: the moment that does kind of make sense, but you can’t figure out how until later.
The point is, you can’t get away with it. As we’ll see, you have to set up a lot of stuff, and there’s just not time to set up stuff like how the mayor tracked them down to that spot. Sometimes you just have to hope the audience goes along with it. You have to know which things the audience needs to know and which things on which they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.