So I just wanted to tell my story about going to see HTTYD2 for the umpteenth time and finding out I picked “daycare day” at the movies.
Okay so seeing HTTYD2 with a bunch of kids was actually really incredible.
So the theater is completely packed, and I end up at the end of a row of daycare kids, right?
So we’re watching the movie, and I realize it’s enjoyable because these fresh faces are all laughing and experiencing the antics of dragon racing and seeing all these cool things for the first time, and it’s kind of fun to see a joke aimed for kids hit home with the kids - you’d hear the kids explode with laughter while the adults would just kind of chuckle inwardly. I don’t know, it was fun to experience it as a a child secondhand.
But I’ve seen HTTYD2 before, so I know what’s coming.
When the Bewilderbeast was killed, there was a little boy in my row who kind of whisper-asked if he was “really dead”.
And the little boy right next to me said, “Probably not”.
Now that stuck out to me because, on screen, it’s so obvious that the Bewilderbeast is dead, and you see all the characters react to it.
But this little 5-6 year old is viewing movies in a completely different way than I am. And it takes me a moment to realize that almost every movie this kid has probably ever been exposed to has been made “for kids” - which means that if there’s ever a “good” character that “dies”, they almost always come back through some miracle. Hence “Probably not.”
This little kid was recognizing the trope used in films directed for his age group, and as a result, he wasn’t affected by the Bewilderbeast’s death.
Until the Bewilderbeast didn’t get up.
It was weird, you could actually feel it in the room when the kids began to realize that the Good Bewilderbeast not only didn’t win, but died.
And so, a few minutes later, you could hear a pin drop in the theater when Stoick was hit.
One little girl in my row laughed really hard at the sight - I guess the blue-green ice piled on Stoick seemed comical?
But the minute Hiccup ran over and started pulling the ice off him, desperate and scared, the audience fell back into silence.
Valka rushed over to him, and put her ear to his chest and-
“Is he dead?”
The same kid from before, but this time he sounded scared.
And the little boy next to me was far less certain when he said, “Probably not?”
And so, we go to the funeral scene. Gobber begins his eulogy, and I hear kids begin to cry. We see the boat, and the draped body, and the helmet, and a kid asks “Is he sick?”
And then the funeral pyre is lit, and the boat sails away, and I look around me and the kid next to me has tears streaming down his face, and the little girl who laughed is crying behind her hands.
Of course, moments after Hiccup’s monologue, we see them flying on the baby dragons, and the kids are quick to laugh and move on from the heaviness of what they just saw.
And I realize that this is probably the first time that the majority of these kids have had to face death like this. In an animated movie with dragons and vikings, they expected a fairytale, and they got something much closer to reality.
And for ten minutes, a theater full of children faced reality with Fun-Dip and popcorn. And they cried.
Now I’ve read the article that claims HTTYD2 didn’t do as well in American theaters because parents warned other parents it “wasn’t for kids”, but I would argue that it was. Of course, I love the movie, so it’s for adults, too, but the target audience wasn’t me.
Parents argued that the Death theme was too much for a young audience (and I respect parents choosing to shield their kids from death for as long as possible), but I saw with my own eyes kids realize that death was a thing that happened to everyone, not just bad guys. And they mourned when a good character died. And I think that lesson is important for kids to have.
There were of course fantastic elements to HTTYD2, but those elements were part of a fantastic world that has always been anchored in reality. In the first film, Hiccup lost his leg because filmmakers decided it wasn’t believable that he went through that epic fight and came out unscathed. And so it was in HTTYD2.
Good people went to war, and good people died.
And I think its a valuable lesson for children to have, especially delivered in animated form, when they can experience it with a kind of silver screen barrier between Death and themselves.