It doesn’t take much to spark a good story.

A tall man, a short woman, a setting that’s sterile to the point of soulless, and a couple dozen bananas…

It practically writes itself!

If you’re slow to recognize the potential in these extremely potent elements (culled from the above video’s opening shot), this free online course on storytelling, part of Khan Academy’s popular Pixar In A Box series, might help strengthen those slack storytelling muscles.




The lessons will hold immense appeal for young Pixar fans, but adults students stand to gain too. Children are naturally confident storytellers. Unfortunately, time can do a number on both fluency and one’s belief in one’s own ability to string together narratives that others will enjoy.

The Pixar directors and story artists drafted to serve as instructors for this course are as deft at encouragement as they are at their craft. They’ll help you move that rubber tree plant… for free.

Each short, example-packed video lesson is followed with an activity in which the viewer is asked to parse his or her favorite stories.

One of the most compelling aspects of the series is hearing about the stories that matter deeply to the teachers.

Mark Andrews, who wrote and directed Brave, recalls his visceral response to the injustice of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s Island of Misfit Toys.

Domee Shi who storyboarded Inside Out had to bail on The Lion King, she was so effected by Simba’s discovery of his dead father.

Ratatouille animator Sanjay Patel, whose observations consistently struck me as the most profound and out of the box, went with The Killing Fields, a title that’s probably not on the radar of those most squarely in Pixar’s demographic.

The first installment stresses the importance of providing a rich setting for well-developed characters to explore, though the teachers are divided on which should come first.

Director Pete Docter, whose daughter’s tweenage passage into the Reviving Ophelia-land inspired Inside Out, stresses “writing what you know” need not pin you to the narrow confines of your own backyard. He was well into production on Monsters, Inc. when he realized it wasn’t so much a tale of a monster whose job is scaring little kids as a story of his own journey to fatherhood.

As you may have guessed, examples from the Pixar canon abound.

Khan Academy will be taking the whole of 2017 to roll out Pixar in a Box’s five remaining Storytelling units

You can complete the first unit here, then revisit their previous course on making animations, while waiting for the rest of the curriculum to drop.

Find more free courses in our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Related Content:

Take a Free Online Course on Making Animations from Pixar & Khan Academy

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling … Makes for an Addictive Parlor Game

George Saunders Demystifies the Art of Storytelling in a Short Animated Documentary

John Berger (RIP) and Susan Sontag Take Us Inside the Art of Storytelling (1983)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker, whose new play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in less than two weeks. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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  • Joey Tam says:

    What Storytelling???? PLAGIARIZING is more like it. The only course they are experts about is the course on plagiarizing–PIXAR and DISNEY are major plagiarists–Fact–they have plagiarized 2 from me: Shadow Monster-the cover of my book, they turned into the design for scully, my book was done and published as early as 1991-1992 and marketed internationally by my publisher,–monsters inc was only in the 2000s. And, not having had enough of that, greedy as they are, next, they took Ratatouille- a story I personally emailed to Lasseter (I, unfortunately, was taken-in, gullible to have believed PR Marketing like this “storytelling” stunt)– the entire thing, story-plot-characters-resolution.

    So please open culture, do not be used by these mass media criminals, liars and thieves.

  • Walt Disney says:

    Photos or it didn’t happen

  • Joey A. Tam says:

    –Best for you to ask Lasseter himself–tell him he knows he doesn’t deserve an iota of those Oscars he got from ratatouille

  • Joey A. Tam says:

    —And, if he does insist he deserves every inch of those Oscars for Ratatouille– he’s lying. The downside to this of course, is that, you- Walt Disney- have also been duped and taken-in, all these years. Of course, that is, if you yourselves did not actually collude in committing that crime.

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