Sunday 23rd November 2014
I’m mushy. Didn’t used to be, so maybe it’s an age thing, or maybe it’s specific life experiences. A filmmaker doesn’t have to work too hard to get me to embarrass myself. But when the ‘sad bit’ happened in How to Train Your Dragon 2, my eyes were dry. The first How to Train Your Dragon film was unexpectedly satisfying. HTTYD2 was merely all right. What went wrong?
The story, of course. But what specifically?
My hypothesis: zero risk = zero engagement. The ‘sad bit’ didn’t work because it happened in a confrontation with about as much at stake as a playground shoving match. When every creature and every weapon is made of rubber, it’s difficult to care.
Worse, the bad guy (Drago Bloodvist) was only allegedly bad. (We were told, not shown.) When he appeared, he was a random dude with a scar, a dodgy accent and no motivation. The threat he posed was never believable. Case in point: his henchmen’s weapons were nets and tranquilliser darts.
Compare the ineffectual Mr Bloodvist with the heartrate-raising Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear or Big Baby from Toy Story 3.
Despite featuring characters with branded flesh, scars and missing limbs, no creature in HTTYD2 suffered so much as a bruise. When they actually did kill something (I’m being cryptic because I hate spoilers) it was a something allegedly good but kinda creepy that we’d never bonded with anyway.
We have to root for the good guys. We have to believe bad things can happen to characters we care about, otherwise when a bad thing really does happen, it's not shocking, merely arbitrary.
The filmmaker probably patted himself on the back for being brave. But all he did was break the established rules for the world. The HTTYD2 world was so wrapped up in cotton wool, it took me three or four minutes to realise that something ‘sad’ and final had happened. By which time, it was too late to feel anything much.
HTTYD was a great start to a franchise now let down by HTTYD2. Of course, maybe kids love it. This particular mushy kid will be in the queue for Toy Story 4, but if there's no HTTYD3, I won’t shed a tear. And that's a bit sad.