A Pet’s Point of View: Showing not Telling in Disney’s Feast by Brad Windhauser
When writing, I’ll explore any topic or idea that piques my interest. However, I typically avoid a child’s point of view—I prefer a narrator and a vantage point infused with more maturity than the average child is capable of—and I never consider writing from the point of view of an animal. I have a dog, I have a cat; I love my pets. Mine are cute and loving and an important part of our household. I can’t imagine not having a pet in my life. I do, however, question any animal’s ability to teach me something deep about the human experience, and that is why I avoid using them as the point of view in any of my work.
For the same reason, as a reader and film enthusiast, I also avoid stories told from an animal’s point of view. Once in a while, however, a story handles this use so well I overlook my prejudice. Such is the case with the Oscar-winning animated short Feast. This 6-minute story demonstrates how near-perfect the handling of an animal’s—in this case, a dog’s—point of view needs to be in order to overcome all the challenges associated with it. The strength lies in how it relies on showing not telling.
Feast tells the story of a stray dog—later-named Winston—who is adopted by a slobby single guy. Together, they scarf down varieties of junk food until one day the guy meets a waitress. They date, fall in love, start fighting, break up, get back together, get married, and then have a baby. The entire story is told through the dog’s point of view.
So why would the writers of this story use a dog to tell this love story? Based on how well details are shown versus told, there are several benefits. First, the love story is simple—no major twists. The one unique angle is how she overhauls his unhealthy diet and also tops meals with parsley. So what can a writer add to such a simple story through the choice of a point of view? Since dogs are only so smart, his point of view demonstrates that love is such a basic emotion that even a dog understands what it is and why it matters. By showing this to the audience, the story is able to add this element to the story in a way a different point of view (i.e. a human point of view) would not—it would feel forced. In fact, throughout this story, the dog’s point of view is able to convey a bevy of emotions tied to love.
Without using dialogue—sticking to the constraints of a non-verbal point of view—we see how happy the dog is happy to share his owner’s meal: he smiles and his eyes go wide when presented with human food. When he’s ecstatic to eat junk food, he shoves his bowl out of the way and turns upside down so the food slides right into his mouth. When he’s disgusted with a Brussel sprout, he cocks his head, snarls, and flips the plate over. When he sees his owner’s broken heart, his mouth and eyes droop. Through details like these, this story offers a master class in how to show emotions.
I have often heard how you should never mix media when discussing craft—don’t discuss film in order to explain how to use a tool in fiction. However, in this case, any viewer can recognize these emotions, and that’s a huge lesson for any writer—how can you convey an emotion without telling the reader what it is? While watching this short film, if you describe what you are seeing, you can understand how the images would work on the page, in one of your stories.
Aside from the writing lesson, what’s truly great about this six-minute short is that, ultimately, this story teaches us much about being a human being—basic emotions such as love are universal, so much so that a dog understands them. Love doesn’t need over-thinking. In addition, we learn how our emotions and moods affect the pets that care so much about us, perhaps more than we realize. This makes me appreciate Griffin (our dog) and Pickles (our cat) even more.