My nephew recently spent a week with me. During his visit, I was exposed to the Disney channel more often than any adult should have to endure. While many Disney or Pixar movies have a layer of dialogue that appeals to adults, the TV shows do not. Most are insipid.
But like the movies, these shows show that Disney has conflict and happy ever after down to a science.
One of my nephew's favorite show, based on which one he actually sat and watched, is Wizards of Waverly Place. At first, I wasn't impressed. The characters were stereotypes: the semi-clueless, but loving parents. The overachieving, uptight sibling. The troublemaking, short-cut seeking but ultimately good-hearted sibling. The really dumb sibling used mainly for comic relief but who sometimes surprises us with his intellect and/or talent.
But then the nephew gave me the backstory: Only one of the three siblings will keep his/her wizard abilities as a adult. In fact, the three will have to fight each other for their powers, winner take all.
For a moment I sat there as the novelist in me wished that I'd thought of that. Then I started imagining all the ways I could use that conflict in a story. It pits the individual against family, personal desire and ambition against love and a place to belong. What a great way to create tension and sustain it over the course of a show--or book.
"So which one will win," I asked.
"Oh, they'll figure out a way to make sure all of them keep their powers," my nephew said. "It's the Disney Channel."
I thought about telling him about Bambi's mother, but decided not to ruin his faith in Happy Ever Afters. He is only eight, after all.