Sorry people, this one has spoilers! If you haven’t seen How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Despicable Me 2 and want to keep it all fresh and surprising, you’d better move along.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 came out a few weeks ago and has been doing really well. Saying that it has been well-received by both the critics and the public is kind of an understatement. It’s like it eclipsed all of the animated movies come out since the end of last year. To be fair, it is really good. Sure, Frozen won all of the awards for 2013 and The Lego Movie is still one of the best-written animated comedies out there, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 has a lot to offer. On top of the fantasy world and the overall well-rounded story and characters, How To Train Your Dragon 2 also has a solid amount of humour, a lot of genuine emotion, and a pile of perfectly executed action scenes, most of them involving dragons and flight. Plus, let’s not forget that the Hiccup-Toothless duo is one of the best of the past ten years. A good half of what makes the franchise so awesome resides in how those two characters complete each other in every way.
So, with all that, you’d think that How To Train Your Dragon 2 is pretty much perfect for me, right? It’s animated, it has dragons, it’s well-written, it has dragons, it conveys a lot of emotion… Did I mention the dragons? Well, while I am more than happy to acknowledge the generally awesome job that Dreamworks is doing with the franchise and totally understand the enthusiasm around this movie, I’m going to have to be that girl, guys. This time around, I am just not part of the hype.
Part of what makes the original How To Train Your Dragon movie so special to me resides in the refreshing way it approached its themes and story. Hiccup was a misfit trying to fit in, like most misfits do because they’re insecure, but he learned to accept his uniqueness the hard way. Guys, let’s not forget that before trying to understand Toothless, Hiccup was really, really close to killing him. In fact, he permanently disabled him. Hiccup could have become a full-on dragon-killing Viking but he made a conscious choice to nurse Toothless back to health and only through that choice did he come to a better understanding of dragons. How To Train Your Dragon could have been renamed How To Understand Others. It was all about accepting differences and finding a way towards harmony together. Even if that way was beating the crap out of a giant-ass alpha dragon. Also, once again, the movie was built around the incredible friendship that Hiccup and Toothless share, a friendship that became the model for the new Berk at the end of the movie.
The sequel did not completely negate the messages of the first one but it was certainly… something else. Sure, there were some really interesting things going on, what with the power to defeat the alpha ultimately coming back to the dragons themselves or the lesson about how, sometimes, you can’t love your way out of a shitty situation. The problem is more in how it wrote new arcs for characters that did not really need them.
Okay, let’s pause for a moment because this needs an explanation. What in the Seven Hells do I mean by that? Don’t characters need an arc? Why, of course they do. I’m not protesting the existence of the character arcs, I’m protesting the character arcs they chose. Let’s take another example to make this clearer.
Remember Despicable Me? Man, that one was another one-of-a-kind movie. I mean, it ended with Gru becoming the new dad of three little orphans and everybody was perfectly okay with it! I mean, yay for difference! Yay for showing that single parents are a thing and that doesn’t mean the children will end up in therapy! I mean, not that those little girls wouldn’t end up in therapy, but that would have less to do with Gru being a single parent and more with him, you know, harbouring nuclear weapons and tiny yellow beings in his basement.
Despicable Me 2 was pretty much like How To Train Your Dragon 2 in that sense. The movie in itself? Just fine. I laughed and had a good time watching it. However, let’s dare to ask the question: did Gru and Lucy need to get married at the end? Did the girls need a Mom? Why did the girls all of a sudden declare that they needed a Mom? Why was that their new character arc? It’s not like Gru wasn’t doing absolutely everything he could to make the girls happy. He was! And still, the girls acted like they absolutely needed a Mom, all of a sudden. We could have had Lucy becoming Gru’s girlfriend without her marrying him and becoming the girls’ new Mom. It would have been more in line with the messages of the first movie. Instead, it was like someone along the production chain realized that the characters were too far away from the typical suburban family formula and yelled “Back in the box, now!”
Back in the box. That was my problem with Despicable Me 2 and it’s the same thing with How To Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup did not need to become the next chief of the village. Hiccup’s Mom did not need to come back to a so-called normal life just because her husband showed up and danced with her for three minutes and a half. I’m not even going to touch on what they did to Astrid. I just don’t agree with trying to make everybody so conform after clearly showing in the previous movie that their thing was to be different. In that sense, How To Train Your Dragon 2 has a “there’s no place like home” feeling that can really rub the wrong way.
It’s not even a matter of being politically correct. It’s just a matter of continuity and even more so, of creativity. The world is not going to end because one dude does not follow his father’s footsteps, or because one Mom decides that in the end, being a mother was not her thing. Kids are not going to be traumatized if a couple in a movie does not get married. If anything, maybe it will help them keep their minds open when they become adults.
I still think How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a good flick. I just wish that it did not choose to ignore some of the most important ideas of its predecessor.