(Submitted by Brandon Smith)
As far as the animation industry is concerned, 2014 looks to be a very diverse year on paper. A collective hodgepodge of returning franchises, new ideas, and everything else thrown in between. Needless to say, I’m quite excited for this year, but not for what I’ve stated above. It’s because of two films coming out this year that I’m sincerely hoping will cause a shake up not only the expectations put on animated films, but also the way animated films are made from every standpoint. The two films that I’m talking about are How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the sequel to 2010’s near-universally acclaimed film about the friendship between a boy Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. It tells how that friendship ultimately becomes the catalyst for bringing dragons and humans together after years of war. The sequel takes us forward five years later to a society in peace with dragons and an older, teenage Hiccup faced with new obstacles, including the external threat of a dragon conqueror and the internal pressures of embracing adulthood and becoming the next chief of Berk.
There’s obviously a lot going for this movie. Asides from having a broader, more epic scale than the last one, it’s also taking a very daring risk in aging up the characters (thus, letting them age with it’s audience), having a darker tone whilst still having those moments of humor, and even delving into more heftier themes like growing up and discovering your true purpose (one of the main plot points of the film is Hiccup being pressured by Stoick to settle down, have a family, and assume the role of Chief). In the hands of a lesser director, this would end up ahowling mess, but Dean DuBlois, co-director of the first one and now the sole director and writer of this one, is somebody I see as not only being a man with an ambitious vision (as all his interviews attest to), but a director who has the skill and the craft to pull it off with flying colors. And it’s not like the first film didn’t take risks (watch the very end to see what I mean!).
If all goes well, How to Train Your Dragon 2 will be to the animation industry what The Dark Knight was to superhero films as proof that western animation can and certainly does have a wider range beyond stupid pop-culture jokes. That an animated film can be as deep, sprawling, and epic as a live-action one. And since this part of a big, big story that DuBlois is telling in the form of a trilogy, I have every hope that it will set the bar for future animated films to reach. As far as animated films are concerned, this is definitely the big one this year. Heck, it may even stand to viewed not as an animated film, but as a true summer blockbuster film!
Big Hero 6
Another animated film that has me excited in the same way is Big Hero 6. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams and based on the Marvel comics property of the same name, the film centers around Hiro Hamada, a teen super-genius who, with the help of his robot Baymax, gather a team of reluctant, inexperienced superheroes to help save the city from criminal forces. In some ways, this is even more of a risky bet than Dragons 2, since it’s not only the first Disney animated film based off a Marvel property, but it’s also based off a property that not very many people know about. It’s also the first animated theatrical film that will most definitely be showcase its Japanese pop-culture influences, which makes sense, since the film takes place in San Fransokyo, a fantastical melding of San Francisco and Tokyo.
Like Dragons 2, I sincerely hope this becomes a game changer, but a game changer in another way. Action-oriented animated films aren’t very common nowadays. Disney/Pixar hasn’t really made one since The Incredibles, and Dreamworks has since stepped up to the plate with Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2, How To Train Your Dragon (of course), and Rise Of The Guardians. Big Hero 6, if successful, could help usher in a trend of more action-y animated films. It may just be me, but I’d love to see it happen. Plus, with the film so obviously influenced by Asian culture, It’ll definitely make the film stand out from your usual typical animated fare and could inspire other animated studios to make movies that lean towards that direction.
Now of course, we’re a month into the new year. How to Train Your Dragon 2 isn’t due out until June 13 and Big Hero 6 doesn’t bow until November of this year. But you can clearly see why I’m very excited for both these films. And while I’m not naive (again, anything could happen between now and their respective release dates), I really hope that what I’ve said turns out to be the case for both films.
And even if they don’t start trends or cause massive shake ups, both films should, at the very least, ignite some intense discussions within the animation industry in terms of not only having a broader appeal but looking at animation as more of a medium to tell stories of all different types and genres for all sorts of people.