A Bug’s Life

Inciting Event: Just as the grasshopper gang is arriving to take their annual tribute of food from the ants, Flik accidentally knocks the entire offering into the water. As a result, the grasshopper leader Hopper demands double the amount of food from the ants.

What we see here isn’t really a rejection of the Call to Adventure by the protagonist Flik. But it’s obviously and completely a conflict he does not want to engage in. He tripped into it accidentally; there’s no deliberate choice whatsoever about what happens here.

First Plot Point: This an interesting First Plot Point. We see Flik leaving his Normal World very shortly after the Inciting Event when he goes on his penance trip to the town on the presumably doomed mission to find warrior bugs to fight the grasshoppers.

However, the space between this Key Event and closing the First Act is wide. Why? Because the First Act still has to finish introducing its key characters. The next thing we see is a comparatively lengthy scene introducing all the circus bugs. This scene ends when they, in turn, are kicked out of their Normal World when their boss PT Flea accidentally gets fried in the failed Flaming Death stunt and subsequently fires (ha!) all of them.

The First Plot Point doesn’t close out the First Act until the moment when Flik mistakenly identifies the circus bugs as “warriors” and convinces them (because they mistakenly believe he wants to hire actors) to come back to the island with him. This definitive action on Flik’s part closes the First Act and engages all the characters in the main conflict.

First Pinch Point: At the celebration welcoming the warrior bugs, the circus bugs learn they are expected to fight (and perhaps die) in a battle against the grasshoppers. They tell Flik the truth and beat a fast track off Ant Island.

This is a clever little pinch point. Not only does it turn the plot with a major revelation for all the main characters, it also deftly emphasizes what will happen to the ants if the grasshoppers aren’t defeated (this is done both subtextually and through some delightful symbolism, via the children’s enactment of the battle—in which everyone dies). It also does a tremendous job of emphasizing Flik’s personal stakes. He tells the circus bugs they “might as well squish me,” because he can’t afford to mess up this badly one more time.

You’ll note that this emphasis of the stakes and the antagonistic force’s power happens without the narrative ever needing to actually show the antagonists.

Midpoint: When the young Princess Dot is endangered by a bird, Flik and the circus bugs mount a courageous rescue—which convinces everyone of the “warriors’” prowess. The circus bugs return to the ant hill, seduced by the ants’ adulation. They allow Flik to convince them to stay. He comes up with a new plan—build a bird to scare away Hopper—which then allows him and the other characters to go on the offensive in their conflict with the grasshoppers.

Second Pinch Point: This pinch point does show the grasshoppers—for the first and only time when they’re away from Ant Island. Although movies follow their own rules on this, POVs introduced this late in a story are usually a bad idea. But it works well here, primarily because Hopper’s ruthlessness needed to be emphasized one more time before bringing the story full circle in the Third Act.

Here, we see Hopper reiterating the importance of squelching the ants’ rebellion. “If you let one ant stand up to us, they might all stand up to us.” In so doing, he kills two of his own people, who dared to question him. The scene ends with his command of “Let’s ride!”—which guides the story right into the Third Plot Point.

Third Plot Point: In the midst of celebrating the completion of the bird, PT arrives and discloses the circus bugs’ true identity. Flik’s deception is found out, and he is banished from the island. The other ants believe that, since the bird was Flik’s idea and not really the warriors’, it is doomed. They scramble futilely to gather enough food to meet Hopper’s demands. But too late. The last leaf falls—and Hopper arrives.

Climax: After Princess Dot chases after Flik and convinces him and the circus bugs to return to help, Flik launches the bird. The Climax here is multi-layered (first the bird plan works, then it fails after PT lights the bird on fire, then Hopper beats Flik up, then the ants get the better of Hopper, then the rain comes, then Hopper flies away with Flik). But note that this is the turning point that definitively moves the story into its final confrontation between Flik and Hopper.

Climactic Moment: Flik maneuvers Hopper into the bird’s nest—and the bird feeds Hopper to her chicks.

Resolution: The next spring, the circus bugs leave. Flik stays behind, having finally found where he belongs and how to make a difference.

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