Today I want to talk about one of the most effective love stories I've seen. It's told in sixty seconds, contains no dialogue, and I still tear up a little when I see it (granted, that might say more about me than the story). It's the epitome of show, don't tell, because there is no "tell". The first time I saw it, I wanted to watch it again, and again and again. So I decided to take a closer look. I wanted to learn how the story worked so well, and what I could learn about storytelling from it. So I'm going to break it down, piece by piece and discuss how the parts come together so strongly.
This heartstring-tugger is, of all things, a commercial for Budweiser. It's called Puppy Love and aired during the Super Bowl. In case you missed it then, here's the video:
So much cute! But any puppy video can radiate cute. Let's look at all the story components and try to figure out how they come together to leave me a huddled crybaby. I want to hear what everyone else got out of this video as well. If you see a great story component I missed, please list it in the comments.
Setting: The opening shot shows us we're at "Warm Springs Puppy Adoption". So we're already prepped for adorableness.
Characters: From the cluster of puppies, one breaks away. The character is instantly sympathetic (c'mon, puppy!), and has raised a question. Why is this puppy running from the rest? Where's it going when it digs under the fence?
Soon enough, puppy nudges into the neighboring barn, and we meet character number two, a Clydesdale. From the moment puppy raises its paw and Clydesdale nuzzles it, I'm hooked. They're friends! This is the sweetest! Yay on them for finding each other.
Conflict: Uh oh. Clydesdale's human sees what's up and takes puppy back. Of course he has to; puppy belongs to the lady at Warm Springs, not him. When puppy makes that face at :20, I almost break apart. Never has heartbreak been more clearly expressed. (As a side note, I have no idea if that face was real or if they altered it with CGI. I really hope it's the latter, because it crushes me to think what they must have done to that puppy to get it to make that face.) They've been driven apart!
Rising Action: But that's not the end for our hero(ine?). Puppy does not give up. It goes out in the rain, being brought back muddy, and tries to dig once again. Puppy's love for Clydesdale will not be denied.
Crisis: Warm Springs Lady sells puppy to an ominous man in sunglasses. Oh no! Now puppy and Clydesdale will be separated forever! Note that this was foreshadowed in the opening shot. Since this is a puppy adoption farm, we know the puppies will be sold away at some point.
Showdown: Note that up until this point, the affection has been largely one-sided. Puppy's the one who's been running to Clydesdale. But when puppy howls in anguish from the back of Sunglass Man's car, Clydesdale's the one who comes running. Clydesdale's just as much in love with puppy, and my throat's starting to clamp up.
While puppy scratches and barks at the rear window, Clydesdale jumps over its fence to catch up with the fast-retreating car. Then Clydesdale's friends join in. Soon the car's surrounded, and Sunglass Man is stopped in his tracks. When the Clydesdales return to the horse man with puppy at their lead, I breathe in relief. The crisis has been averted.
(Another side note: we never see what happened to Sunglass Man in the interim. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bloodied pair of shades stuck to one of the horses' hooves. But hey, he's the bad guy, right?)
Resolution: Puppy and Clydesdale have made it clear their love won't be denied. But will their humans accept this? Once puppy returns, Horse Man scoops it up. Clearly this is puppy's home. And in the final scene, puppy and Clydesdale run and play together at the horse farm, while Puppy Lady and Horse Man look on, and I try not to blubber all over myself.
Part of what makes this story work so well is that it's stripped of any unnecessary extras. It has to be, because of the time restraints. Within the confines of a word-free minute, the commercial writers have created a dynamite story in a highly effective emotional package.