Today’s review is taking us back to another popular Amazon Studios project.
The Playground by Brad Viar
A depressed daycare worker journeys to a magical playground populated by children, where he leads them against a powerful evil in order to return home to his hospitalized wife, but before he saves the children, he must first remember what it’s like to be one.
We’re introduced to Aven, who as a boy receives a magical book from his dying grandfather. He takes the book and puts it into his teddy bear, Red, and forgets about it.
Flash forward almost twenty years, and Aven is a happy-go-lucky daycare worker, who enjoys children. His life is going well as he receives a permanent teaching position and a shot at becoming a real writer…until a car accident leaves his wife in a coma.
Aven spirals into a stupor, where he rediscovers Red, and the magical book he was holding. A door opens up to a magical world and Aven is pulled into it.
He discovers that he’s stranded in one giant playground. Children inhabit this happy place, but due to Aven’s recent mood a darkness has fallen over the land.
The king orders Aven, Red, and four companions to seek out the Before Place, where the Tall Man can be defeated, and put an end to his evil scheme, turning the children into grown ups.
The group travels past fantastic marvels and fun, childlike settings while evading the Tall Man and they eventually end up saving the world of Playground.
With that said, let us begin.
1.) Can we visualize the description?
Real quick, as this is an easy one to answer. Brad set up an entire world that’s a playground. It’s incorporated into everything, but here, let me just show you.
The playground melds with the functionality of a town.
Slides extends from one part of the street to another.
Toys cover the ground.
The town is alive with children.
They enter and exit through slides and trap doors hidden
around every corner. Kids whiz by in go carts, big
wheels, bikes, unicycles, skateboards, scooters, etc.
A procession of children dance behind Red as he carries
Aven through the streets.
I would note that here, and a few other spots that there’s a few typos, but nothing major and can be corrected with an easy proofread.
The scripts filled with good description which is really its strong point. (This also becomes a flaw for another question we’ll discuss later.)
10 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
Yes. I’m not sure there was even anything small that threw me off. It read great, if maybe a bit short at 101 pages, but again we’ll cover that in the last two questions.
10 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Some of the dialogue was just hokey. I mean “trying to be on a higher plane than you” kind of bad.
I can’t be here. There’s somewhere else I should be.
Sometimes you don’t know where you should be until you get there.
No. This isn’t a story. It’s my life.
Life is a story. We all have stories.
Page 74 (pretty much the whole page):
What’s that got to do with pretending.
So don’t believe what you see?
No, make believe what you see.
This last one I also want to point out Aven’s line. There was a fair amount of dialogue that ended with a period when it was asked as a question. I was beginning to wonder if the author’s keyboard was broken. I’m going to deduct points, not because I don’t think you know what a question mark is, but because there were just too many to ignore.
With these examples the dialogue just came across as smug. I know they’re kids who are acting out, but it was almost too smug even for kids.
You know you’ll have to sing that song to me every night before bed.
Of course, my love.
Aven’s too much. He’s almost sickening sweet. I felt bad when Clara got hit by the car, bad because I was hoping it’d be Aven. He’s annoying, in a too good to be true way.
Since we’ll get into this later, the dialogue for Aven was annoying, as I said, and made me suspicious that he wasn’t a child molester.
On page 10 you have Aven sing a song. Can we ditch this and just say:
Aven sings “Clara’s Song” to his wife.
It’s a down economy after all, so let’s employ a songwriter or composer for that, since most likely they’ll ditch what you wrote anyway.
Lastly, on page 33, you give Aven a one liner. Never once does he really question or fight what’s happening to him. He kind of asks, but not forceful enough. He’s a teacher and these are children. Make him man up.
Overall the dialogue was okay, but nothing fantastic, and characters did have unique voices.
I will say this however, even given the entire fantasy setting, no where was there an expo dump really explaining things. We got to see it all, which was really nice.
4 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
Doors that appear when needed? Water slides that take one across deserts? A boat that floats UP a mountain of ice cream? I think we’ve nailed it.
(Although I do think this would be a better children’s book first that becomes an adaptation, especially since self publishing is easier than self producing.)
10 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
I’ve never read anything like it before, and I mean that in a good way.
It was like a mixture of:
Wizard of Oz
Alice in Wonderland
The Neverending Story
The world created would be hard to duplicate without being in Brad’s mind I think, so good job there.
10 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
Yes, BUT, I believe Brad cheated. We’re shown a scene where a boy mock fights with a wooden sword. He then finds a books, opens it, then has to fight the Tall Man. The boy is then sucked into the book. Now it’s a very gripping scene, but it seems forced here. It screams, “THIS IS A MAGIC MOVIE!” But we’ll learn that in the very next scene anyway, and with a more subtle approach.
The next scene is Aven with his grandfather, who’s dying if you remember from my synopsis. His grandfather gives him a book and says it’ll open when the time is right. In addition to that we’re treated to the same flying letters scattering around the room from the opening scene.
Just as Aven’s parents come in everything is back to normal, with grandpa even sound alseep in his bed, and Aven’s left wondering if it really all happened. (We’re treated to a letter flying outside of the window so we know it did.)
My problem is that bumping that scene to the very front, and showing us something similar at the end is cheating. Did it interest me? Sure. But so did the scene with grandpa, so why not start it there, and that way I won’t get upset when I see a repeat scene at the end. (Plus if Aven’s sucked in at the beginning how does he get back out?)
8 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
After we jump to present day it’s set up that Aven has a perfect life. Things are going right for him from being offered a full time teaching position at his day care to his wife finding a publisher interested in reading his novel once it’s finished.
Then the car crash.
Clara, his wife, is in a coma, and Aven can’t shake off the funk. It’s sad, but like I said, I almost wished he’d been hit by a car.
The problem here is Aven has no real flaws. I mention this in the dialogue, but he acts like an extremely happy kid. This doesn’t work. If the moral of the story is to “find your inner child” then he can’t already have it then lose it for a scene or two. He needs to be the exact opposite of what he is at the end.
Bitter. Angry. Cynical. In short, an adult.
Still give us reasons to like him. For instance he loves his wife. This scene needs to be cleaned up so a reader doesn’t want to puke at how perfect their marriage is, but once they get hit by a car we will feel bad. No one deserves to have their spouse in a coma.
So please, don’t cheat with the first scene, and make Aven a grown up. A good reference would be Peter Banning in Hook but of course, make it your own.
8 out of 10 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
The author created a fantastic world, and did a good job of it.
Unfortunately, we’re too busy taking a tour of it with not enough happening to us. In fact we’re not even sure why Aven’s going a long with it all.
Here’s the problem once Aven and company begin their quest.
Enter land A, get chased by Tall Man.
Enter land B, get chased by Tall Man.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
That’s not enough. We need twists and turns, ups and downs. At 101 pages, we need more than just narrow escapes from the Tall Man.
At page 33 I finally asked myself, “Why is Aven going along with this?” It’s never clearly defined. We understand that he wants to get home, but how is he sure these kids know the answer? They are children after all, and at the beginning of the movie we have to assume stereotypes that will be overturned by the end.
Some Conflict Ideas I had.
Cloud Town gets ravaged. Our group doesn’t see the Tall Man until this point. They meet up with Bubba, and everything’s fun and fancy free, when we get to see the Tall Man capture most of the citizens of Cloud Town. This should be devastating to the kids and Aven sees first hand what he’s done. There should be a narrow escape, and a pause afterward where they witness the destruction from afar.
The book gets stolen. This is Aven’s story, and the key to them fixing the world of Playground, so make something happen to it. Either it’s lost or stolen, doesn’t matter, but we need to feel like there’s a big chance things won’t work out.
Tall Man needs an inside guy. Personally I think it should be Pooches. He should be delivering them to their doom. This sets up more conflict and throws us for a loop.
Aven should be brought to the King against his will in the beginning. Tied up with jump ropes or something. Red should carry him through town, but instead of the movie theater, the parade that’s following Red should turn on Aven once he flees. Imagine it, a pack of wild children chasing after him in a glorious game of tag, on big wheels, sctooers, popping out of trap doors, etc.
The Lite Brite part was awesome, but remember that scene at the beginning? THAT’S the final battle scene we should see in the end. I’d suggest moving the Lite Brite scene up a bit, so we see it earlier on and it’s foreshadowing what’s going to happen.
In the end, Clara’s revival should be longer. Aven should come to terms with her being gone (from the previous scene I’d argue she should anyway), and go to leave the room, pressing the memory blossom into her hand. As he’s about to exit, she calls to him, he turns with THE BIGGEST SMILE we’ve ever seen, and FADE OUT. (You didn’t end soon enough.)
Things I liked
Emily being stolen. Although there should be a bigger bond between Aven and Emily initially, since she is in fact Clara.
The sunflower face and his riddles.
Lincoln’s fight seen, then being taped up at the end. (Lincoln in general.)
The Kings having to take turns.
Overall though, and I can’t stress this enough, we need more excitement.
1 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
Since we took off points above for the lack of strong conflict, I’ll skip it here and talk about a few smaller issues.
(In no particular order.)
Page 37 – One of the characters says the world is being consumed by darkness, but the way they said it sounded like The Neverending Story. Change that. The whole plot of the script is Tall Man capturing the children and turning them into adults. Stick to that as it’s unique to your story.
Page 37 (again) – Aven does a full 180, and suddenly he’s all, “Let’s DO this!” This needs to be more convincing, as he seems reluctant to help early on, and one line of dialogue convinces him otherwise.
Page 14 – A perfect example of NOT wanting to root for Aven. The door bursts open, and he jumps on the couch like a little girl who’s just seen a spider. I honestly muttered, “Seriously?” when I read that. I’ve already mentioned making him more flawed and less perfect.
Page 52 – Aven says he worked at an accounting firm. I assume this is a typo left over from a rewrite, but I have to say, I LIKE THIS MORE. Making him serious in the beginning gives you the GREATEST chance at a successful character arc. The audience will like it better too. Sure he’s upset his wife is in a coma, but you’ve already shown us that’s not really who he is, whereas if he’s a boring old accountant forced to find his inner child, that’s the longer journey.
Last thing – I liked the idea that this was Heaven of a sort. I liked Bubba being grandpa, Emily being Clara, but what about Rom/Tom? You need to introduce them earlier in the script. Leaving it like, “Hey you’re–” INTERRUPTION! So we never know how they related to Aven’s life. This sort of thing pisses audiences off. Whether they’re twins that Clara lost before birth, or Aven’s two goofy college buddies that died due to some mistake (and that’s why Aven’s so serious), there needs to be something.
5 out of 10 points.
In closing, this was a very interesting and detailed world Brad created, now it’s time to introduce some epic conflict in it. What we see is essentially a war for heaven, so keep us on the edge of our seats. Fix that and give us a character we’re not annoyed with initially, and this script is one step away from the big screen.
Total 66 out of 100 points.