The secret to Disney's storytelling formula

Recruit A Partner To Fly High

Characters often try to go it alone in the beginning but later they realize they need help.

What this means for you: Everyone has a weakness. To succeed, you may have to find someone who is very different from you but can complement your strengths.


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The secret to Disney's storytelling formula

The secret to Disney's storytelling formula


Key Ideas

Brace Yourself For The Sequel

Every good story deserves a sequel. Keep swimming!

What this means for you: You’ve learned from your failures, now learn from your successes — and build off them. Get ready for the next adventure and watch the cycle repeat itself.


After conquering their challenges characters are “reborn” with greater knowledge and power than before. They teamed up with friends to save others, and in the process saved themselves.

What this means for you: Take stock of what you accomplished. Enjoy it.

Save The Day With Friends

After all the lessons learned in the journey, characters can finally face their challenges. But sometimes even all the preparations aren’t enough and someone they help earlier in their journey unexpectedly comes to save the day.

What it means for you: Never pass up an opportunity to help someone else. You never know when they will return the favor.

Question Long-Held Assumptions

The beginning of the movie a character has assumptions about himself and his world but to face his challenge he has to question them and change his ways.

What this means for you: Don't expect different results, if you don't change a thing.

Prepare For Your Comeback

If a character has been out of the fight for a while, they have to retrain.

What this means for you: Determine what weaknesses you have to work on and fix it.

Recruit A Partner To Fly High

Characters often try to go it alone in the beginning but later they realize they need help.

What this means for you: Everyone has a weakness. To succeed, you may have to find someone who is very different from you but can complement your strengths.

Rafiki - The Lion King

Rafiki - The Lion King

The past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.”

Learn From Failure

Even when a character retreats there comes a point where they have to face their problem. 

What this means for you: Inspect why you failed and write down the cause. Then remove that obstacle.

Know When To Let It Go

Characters suffer setbacks but they don't always rush back into battle. Sometimes retreating, regrouping and reevaluating what they are capable of the is best route.

What this means for you: Failure is inevitable. Use the opportunity to reflect.

Expect The Unexpected

Just when the character thinks they were on the path to victory, they realize something has gone completely array.

What this means for you: It’s always going to be harder than you think. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks — try to view them as long-term opportunities.

Choose Wisely. Wishes are limited

Once a character accepts the challenge, there might be a temptation to do too much or divert their attention to something else. That ends up causing complications.

What this means for you: Remember why you set off on this journey in the first place and don’t get sidetracked.

Get Over Your Reluctance

A character’s adventure has the promise of reward at the end, but also of danger. There is the fear of the unknown and the hero often tries to shy away from facing the challenge.

What this means for you: if you don’t face your fears and tackle your challenges you can’t better your life.

Define The Problem

Soon after we are introduced to the world of the story, we realize that there is trouble in paradise. At first, you might not be able to pinpoint the problem, you just have a general sense that something is off.

What this means for you: There can be no adventure if you don’t have something to overcome. Define and write down what problem you are trying to solve.

Reevaluate The World

The first thing any Disney movie does is introduce you to the “rules” of their world. However fantastical the world, once you see how it works, you accept it as the natural order of things.

What this means for you: You learn to accept the status quo when you live in your world day in and day out. So pretend you are seeing your environment as the opening credits of a film. View it with fresh eyes and identify the rules, dangers and opportunities in it.

The hero’s journey

Movies succeed using roughly the same narrative arc over and over again because we can all relate. If you look at Disney and Pixar movies, they are variations on this same timeless theme, sometimes called the hero’s journey.

You have a hero, a conflict, failed attempts to solve the problem, back-up plans, a breakthrough, a solution that works and finally a conclusion. By the end, we are back where we started, but transformed with new powers and knowledge.



Pete Docter

“What you’re trying to do, when you tell a story, is to write about an event in your life that made you feel some ..."

Pete Docter
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Jon Westenberg
Jon Westenberg

“Storytelling is the greatest technology that humans have ever created.” 

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