Animated movies are often easier to dissect since they’re much shorter (90 minutes) compared to the typical film (120 minutes). Nevertheless, the basic idea of eight distinct segments in a story still holds true.
In studying the structure of a story, it’s easier to start with the fundamentals. Rather than try to study the structure of a novel by reading “War and Peace,” it’s much easier to study a shorter, simpler novel like “War of the Worlds.” Likewise, it’s much easier to study the structure of a movie by studying shorter films such as animated ones vs. ordinary feature-length films.
In most 120 minute feature-length films, you have plenty of subplots and supporting characters, which makes it easy to identify the main structure. Animated films are much shorter (90 minutes), so they have fewer subplots and fewer supporting characters. Thus it’s usually easier to identify the structure of animated movies.
In studying “WALL-E,” the eight segments are easy to spot:
Segment 1: The Inciting Incident is seeing mounds of garbage piled up everywhere and we’re wondering what’s happening. The Rising Action occurs when WALL-E the robot wanders around and we gradually learn that the Earth was over run by garbage and the people flew away, leaving the robots to clean up the mess. This is where we learn that WALL-E is alone and longs for companionship, but he’s the only robot left on the planet. The Climax is when WALL-E finds a plant.
Segment 2: The Inciting Incident occurs when the spaceship lands and Eve pops out. The Rising Action occurs as WALL-E tries to avoid getting killed by Eve, then starts becoming her friend. WALL-E shows Eve the plant and she takes it and shuts down. The Climax occurs when the spaceship comes back to retrieve Eve and WALL-E comes along with it.
Segment 3: The Inciting Incident is where WALL-E sees Earth from outer space and docks on the spaceliner where all the people are. The Rising Action occurs when WALL-E tries to follow Eve. The Climax occurs when he gets Eve’s attention in the captain’s cabin.
Segment 4: The Inciting Incident is when Eve doesn’t have the plant and is sent to repairs with WALL-E following. The Rising Action occurs when Eve thinks WALL-E took the plant. Then Eve tries to send WALL-E back to Earth, but they spot another robot putting the plant in an escape pod to blow it up. The Climax occurs when WALL-E rescues the plant and escapes, then dances through space with Eve.
Segment 5: The Inciting Incident is when Eve and WALL-E return to the ship and try to get back to the captain with the plant. The Rising Action occurs when Eve gets the plant to the captain. Suddenly the Auto-Pilot wants the plant but the captain doesn’t want to give it up. The Climax occurs when Auto-Pilot and Gopher (the robots) toss WALL-E and Eve down the garbage chute. Now the captain is a prisoner in his own cabin.
Segment 6: The Inciting Incident is when Eve wakes up in the garbage, being shoved out of an airlock. The Rising Action is when she spots WALL-E and rescues him. Then WALL-E tells Eve that they need to go back to Earth for spare parts. The Climax occurs when all the robots rebel and take over the ship and the captain tells them where to take the plant.
Segment 7: The Inciting Incident occurs when the steward robots try to stop Eve and WALL-E. The Rising Action is when the rogue robots beat up the steward robots and take off towards the plant holo-detector. The captain tricks Auto-Pilot into coming into his cabin where he can wrestle with him. The Climax occurs when the captain activates the holo-detector to examine the plant.
Segment 8: The Inciting Incident is when Auto-Pilot knocks the Captain off. The Rising Action is when WALL-E drops the plant and Eve goes to retrieve it. Then a monorail train derails and Eve has to hold the train up from crushing the people. The captain shuts down Auto-Pilot, Eve manages to toss the plant into the holo-detector, and the ship returns to Earth. The Climax is when Eve tries to fix WALL-E and after failing, holds his hand, which activates him.
If you’re having trouble identifying the eight segments of a movie, watch animated movies like WALL-E. The shorter length makes it easier to see how each segment begins, ends, and leads into the next one.