I’m in a filmmaking class here at NYU that focuses on visual storytelling. That is, no dialogue. At first that sounds like quite a challenge since it’s the script and speaking that tend to carry a story. So that got me thinking: what’re the benefits when we don’t have dialogue?
Anyone remember the video game LEGO Star Wars that came out several years ago? It’s a retelling of (obviously) the Star Wars movies only with LEGO. There’s no dialogue. The game relies on players inherent familiarity with the movies to convey the plot and also use a lot of gestures and emotions. It’s a simple form of storytelling — almost crude — but it gets the point across. What we get is a humorous, quirky retelling of and old story.
So it’s doable, sure, but is it effective?
Up. The first ten minutes of that movie tells one of the best, most heartfelt stories you will find in film. And five of those ten minutes are completely devoid of dialogue. In those five minutes (nicknamed Married Life, based on the piece from the soundtrack) we get an overview of Carl and Ellie’s life together. It’s the music that carries it. In fact, dialogue would have hurt the scene.
The impact of this wonderful scene comes from the animation and music. We don’t hear Carl and Ellie discussing their inability to have a child or the postponement of their dream; instead we seem them consoling one another and going through life. The speechless montage allows the creators to show us their story rather than telling us. The absence of dialogue can be a powerful thing indeed.
If you happened to see Wreck-It Raph in theaters you were treated to a beautiful short called Paperman. Paperman, like Married Life, is devoid of dialogue. Also like Married Life, it tells a complete story.
See, Paperman is a whimsical romance. It’s not a serious drama or even a romantic comedy; it’s a story about love and the degree of magic found in life. It’s in black and white, features a sort of CGI-2D animation blend, and has no dialogue. Dialogue (and even color) would take away from it. What makes Paperman great is how it’s not quite real life. In real life the boss would yell at him more, in real life there’d be more talking. But in real life paper airplanes don’t fly as well as they do in the short. It’s not meant to be real, it’s meant to be fantastical. Paperman’s music, animation, lack of dialogue, and very precise use of color bring it all together. What could easily end up a trite and saccharine is instead a beautiful piece of animation.
Sometimes we need a story that steps aside from the rigors of reality. The flourish of romanticism that is Paperman is a reminder that sometimes life can be simple and it can be hopeful The break from dialogue — and reality with it — allows us this diversion.
Long story short: I wanted an excuse to say something about Paperman. I got that excuse.