Hiding a Dinosaur Behind Bowling Pins: for the Fans

I was recently at a business conference where one of the special speakers was an employee of Disney.  Grant it, most of his talk was in regards to business management and customer service, but one of the things he mentioned was Easter eggs.

No, I’m not talking about the half-cooked, smells-after-five-days, protein in a shell food product that people like to color in pastels over the spring holiday.  I’m talking about the little tidbits in stories that connect one story to another.

The speaker showed the audience a small clip from the Disney/Pixar film “Wall-E” in which our little robot friend rolls into his home after a long day of picking and stacking garbage.  He rolls past shelves of things he’s collected over the years and goes to watch a clip of a romantic movie.  But what the speaker wanted to show us wasn’t the quality animation or the story in itself-it was the background he was interested in.  He pointed out that the Pixar movies, like Wall-E, had Easter eggs in them.  “Did you see Rex the dinosaur?” He asked as he rewound the clip.  Rex, of course, was one of the characters from an earlier Pixar movie called “Toy Story”.  He paused the clip and zoomed in, pointing to Rex in the middle of a pile of items in Wall-E’s home.

And then he turned to the audience.  “Why do you think the animators put Rex in there?”

The answer, he said, was service to the fans.

It wasn’t anything that was integral to the story.  If Rex was missing, the story of Wall-E could still be told and have the same positive effect it had on the audience.  But hiding Rex in the pile of collectibles was something the animators put in there as a fun treat for the fans.  It was something they could look for and identify with (Pixar has added plenty of Easter eggs in their other movies) and it showed, in my opinion, that the animators cared enough for the fans to add more detail (in the form of a familiar character, like Rex) to put an extra smile on the audience’s faces.

Every Friday night I like to watch The Legend of Korra.  TLoK (as we fans call it) is a sequel show to the highly popular “Avatar: The Last Airbender”.  Last Friday’s episode finished a side story of Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi (the children of Aang and Katara, who were characters in the original Avatar series) in which the three siblings were reminiscing of their growing up with Aang.  What was most touching for me (and from what I have read on the Korra forums, touching for other fans as well), was the scene where Kya showed Bumi and Tenzin a family picture of when they were younger.  There was Aang and Katara, all grown up, posing for a picture with their three children.  It was a two second scene but for me and other fans, it was one of the highlights of the entire Korra series.  We got to see two former main characters again and glimpsed a part of their lives that wasn’t in the series.  Was showing a picture of the old Avatar characters all grown up with a family a necessary part to the plot?  Probably not.  The storytellers could have just left Kya, Bumi, and Tenzin talking about their childhood and leaving it at that.  But the picture was something that added a special feeling to the story’s conclusion, like the writer’s were saying, “yeah, we know the old story (Avatar) has been told, but we haven’t forgotten it and we know you love it.  So here’s our way of saying thanks.”

Easter eggs are fun and give something for the audience to look for in a story.  But to me, it’s more than just a hide and seek game for fans.  It’s fan service.  It’s the writers showing just how dedicated they are not only to the story they write, but to the fans who read/watch them.  It’s a way for writers to connect to their fan base, to show the audience they truly care for their opinion.  It doesn’t have to be done.  It’s not integral to telling a story.  It’s just going that extra mile for your audience.

And one way it was done was hiding Rex the dinosaur behind bowling pins in Wall-E’s house.