Despite what people say about the film and television industry the reality is it is stronger than ever, especially where Disney and DreamWorks are concerned. With 2013’s hit Frozen hitting the $1 billion mark from ticket sales alone, Oscar wins and merchandising potential, Disney hasn’t seen this sort of success from its consecutive animated releases since the 1990s. Fuelled by a sudden trend of releasing sequels in hopes of capturing old audiences with nostalgic ties, Toy Story 3 was the first film that was an animation arguably directly marketed to those who had lived through and grown up with the first two Toy Story films in the 90s.
And it was considerably successful. According to IMDB, Toy Story made $414 million in gross ticket sales. While the Walt Disney Company rarely ever create sequels compared to their competition, DreamWorks Studios, the trend is becoming increasingly popular to not only generate an extended interest in a franchise but to keep those ticket sales coming. However, as anyone with half a brain can notice, most of the sequels (Shrek sequels, Madagascar sequels, the Cars franchise) do fail to match up to the originals.
How to Train Your Dragon 2, the new DreamWorks release, doesn’t.
Riding on the back of the success of How to Train Your Dragon (2010), the sequel follows Viking Hiccup, as a twenty-year old man with his dragon/best-friend, Toothless (aptly named because he has retractable teeth). The bond between man and dragon in this film is not at all to the degree of a Khaleesi and her now not-so-baby-dragons, but there is a deep harmonisation and co-habitability of man and beast suitable for the targeted age demographic and rating, PG 13.
Hiccup is at war with himself, as any coming-of-age man is in these films. To take his rightful place as chief of the Viking village or to keep exploring the world and having fun with Toothless, discovering and befriending more dragons? Adulthood is creeping up on Hiccup and when the threat of war poses itself, Hiccup takes it upon himself to act as a peacekeeper and to keep the balance of respect within the relationships people have with the dragons.
The film is well-written. While the protagonist’s journey is somewhat clichéd, the real gem in this story is how the Vikings interact with the dragons and how the dragons, consequently, interact with each other. This alone gives depths to Hiccup’s journey as his relationship with Toothless is pushed to the extreme. The animation is quality, with vast shots of beautiful scenery and attention to detail. The scenes are deep with interactions – Astrid and Hiccup joke around in the foreground, while in the background, two dragons happily interact with each other. Small aspects like that within an animated film are impressive and rarely exhibited. With it costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to sometimes even create a single scene, each scene within the film helps to drive the narrative along.
One aspect that fails is the writing of the antagonist – as a very one-dimensional character he is treated as “the-one-who-shall-not-be-named”. His backstory is brief and not very related to much at all and even his objective is questionable. He doesn’t seem to have big plans to take over the world, all he wants to do is to be powerful and at some points you are left wondering if it’s really just best to leave him be and go on with life. Though it is evident through many different scenes that the writers do or did have plans to incorporate him into Toothless’ backstory, it isn’t followed through whatsoever. Whether this may be played out within How to Train Your Dragon 3, confirmed for 2016, remains to be seen.
Jónsi, the Icelandic guitarist and vocalist for the band SigurRós, once again dominates the sound track for the film, combining falsetto and cello bow for a Scandinavian sound that Frozen just couldn’t seem to find.
There is a lot to like about this film, especially as a sequel. The idea is fresh and interesting and though it is an animated film, the rating should be heeded and parental guidance is definitely recommended for children under ten for the considerable amount of violence it presents.
Arguably it is a thoroughly enjoying film not seen from DreamWorks since the early Shrek films. With no other competitors coming up to the school holiday season, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is expected to be the winner for parents everywhere over the winter break. However, it was not surprising to see other twenty-something’s like me and my friend purchasing tickets for a typically aimed children’s movie. So why are so many young people still going to films that are out of their age bracket, films that are written and created for the younger demographic?
Before I look into this, I’d like to clarify some aspects of this argument. Adults who make the decision to see an animated film do so without the influence of a child on their viewing choice – they are childless and are not in the company of children. Also, animations typically marketed towards Western adults, such as Studio Ghibli’s work, are not included within the analysis.
The easiest assumption one can make of this sudden trend is young adults wishing to delay and escape from the sudden vices of adulthood by reliving an aspect of their past and capturing their inner child, but then again ‘isn’t everyone’? It’s so easy to assume that Gen-Y have had enough of this ‘adult life’ because it’s wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be and so we go to these films in order to escape – just for the moment. When The Wizard of Oz was released it was seen a way to escape from the horror of life in the late 1930s and early 1940s, so maybe it’s not quite the same as trying to escape and ignore a World War knocking on your doorstep, but there is a lot to be said about the trend.
Is it because of the typically circular protagonist’s journey and the arc of Disney storylines that make us feel safe and secure? It always works out for the main character, even if it’s not the way he originally wanted it in the beginning. Because he always gets the girl and love reigns supreme? Maybe. Johnny Depp is rumoured to only really enjoy watching cartoons, but I couldn’t get a hold of him to voice his opinion on the matter (a girl only has so many resources!).
These are all flimsy ideas that can be pinned to the sudden influx of ticket sales by twenty-something’s. Of course, we don’t want to be considered “man-children” or “girl-women” and most of us desire to be fully-functioning adults and members of our society. We want to be considered mature when the time is appropriate.
You could consider that the writing and the industry has grown with us – as viewers of the Disney renaissance, Gen Y could be seen by Disney as a life-time audience. We watch the film when we are younger, they bring out sequels to the classic films of our youth years later to spark back interest and brand loyalty and during our later years we bring our children and our grandchildren to view Disney films, completing the circle of marketing. It’s no secret that films for children are also written with the parents of the children in mind, but isn’t it closer to a consolation so the parent won’t have to sit through an hour and a half of talking birds?
A great example as mentioned previously is Toy Story 3 – released over a decade after the second Toy Story. It was never completely marketed towards children, who had most likely only seen the first two films because of their early Gen Y parents (1981-90). The real audience was the person with the nostalgic memories of Toy Story on VHS and more importantly cash to spend on the film and its merchandise – the now-grown, fully fledged adult Gen Y individual.
There may not be a solid reason behind it, but Disney definitely know that there’s a spike in young-adult sales without children and it’s a demographic they can definitely back. A recent case was the characterisation of Princess Anna, a gawky girl who wins you over with her awkward humour who probably spent most of her free time on Tumblr being able to “not even” when she wasn’t asking her sister to build a snowman. When being told she couldn’t marry a man she’d just met, it was hailed as a snarky jab at Disney’s previous writing flaws, even though this brings up many problems within itself (too enough for this article to cover) and Disney had once again breached the age-gaps between its three audiences – children, parents and singles.
You’re not going to stop watching animated films, and neither am I. How to Train Your Dragon 2 won’t be the last Dreamworks film I make the decision to watch in the theatres, and it definitely wasn’t a bad one. As a film with as much to offer the children as it does to you, a recommendation would be to plan to see a session that many children won’t be able to attend such as weekday evenings – indeed, there’s nothing worse than a seasoned Disney fan going deaf in one ear from the seven-year old in the row behind laughing at a poorly written fart joke.