Monday, February 2, 2015

A perfectly handled subplot

It has been a while since I've actually been brave enough to do an analysis post, but I am going to try to do a short one now! There are so many that I want to do... ones on the big elements of HTTYD2 (like Hiccup's maturing and Stoick's character), but for now I'll stick to something that isn't quite as dramatic. Still... the subplot of Eret and Stormfly struck me as being beautifully well done as well as surprisingly thematic.

When watching Riders of Berk and the following seasons, we got a rather large dose of the secondary characters of HTTYD, most namely the teens and their dragons. Sometimes this was a good thing, but at other times I felt that the plots of the episodes made it really clear why characters like Fishlegs or Tuffnut were not designed to be lead roles. I don't know... I just feel that sometimes support characters really just need to stay support characters. I suppose it is the Cars 2 problem. In the first movie, Lightning McQueen is easily the main character. Mater is his friend, but he isn't really very central to the plot. One could argue that several other characters were every bit as important as Mater in Cars, yet Mater clearly became the lead role in Cars 2. This felt like a disconnect, and because of that I felt that Cars 2 was my least favorite Pixar film to date. I am rambling, but the simple point is this: when sequels get made, it is tempting to explore the personalities of secondary characters, and sometimes when this is done that secondary character finds himself as the main character. This is usually a very bad thing... because that support character was in no way designed to lead the story, and it makes the main characters (who we fell in love with in the first movie) get left out of the focus that they deserve. So, how do you celebrate a secondary character in a way that doesn't disrupt the main plot and the main characters? I don't have a perfect answer, but I think I've got a good example.


Stormfly had practically no personality in the first movie. She did a good job at viciously running around the Kill Ring and nearly chomping Astrid, and then in the final battle she was the dragon who carried Hiccup, but she also dropped and abandoned Astrid when knocked out of the air by a shockwave. Other than that, Stormfly really didn't do anything. She was about as minor of a character as you could get.

GotNF displayed Stormfly's closeness with Astrid as well as what looked very much like a budding friendship between Toothless and Stormfly. We also learned that Stormfly was female in this short.

Then you had the series, and in it established that Stormfly had picked up on Astrid's competitive nature. Other than that... Stormfly didn't have much personality even in the series. She had so little, as a matter of fact, that she practically betrayed Astrid because Heather gave her a chicken leg. It wasn't the most thought through plot in my opinion. I suppose I should just toss out the disclaimer that I don't really consider the series to be anywhere near the same level as the movies when it comes to what is canon and what is not. So, by the end of the series, we know Stormfly is very close to Astrid, we know she is competitive and dedicated, but she still isn't all that interesting of a character.

Then we get to the second movie, and Stormfly just shines. She was beautiful. Her design was gorgeous. I love the way they aged her by staining her horns and making her skin a little more wrinkly in certain areas. She was such a vibrant dragon. The scene where she and Toothless are rambunctiously playing together was really lovely... and it made me wonder at what level could dragons communicate with each other. I don't know what they were doing when they were gurgling and shaking their head's around, but it seemed to be something that required pretty high intelligence. At least they both knew what they were doing!

Stormfly and Astrid are a great pair. Stormfly is perfectly dedicated and skilled, which makes her and Astrid a pretty unstoppable team in the dragon races. However, Stormfly is also shown to be extremely playful. I never really saw that coming... but she and Astrid really do seem to actually goof off together. It is really nice to see Astrid able to do that. In the world before HTTYD1, can you really imagine Astrid ever dreaming that she would have time to just play? Well, she does in the second one, and her shenanigans with Stormfly, such as getting her to fetch falling hostages, are really cute. Stormfly's playfulness comes out as more than just a quirky personality trait. In the end, it winds up being a real catalysts for Eret's change.

Eret Son of Eret deserves an entire post in his own right. He was an excellent character. He was crafted with brilliant voice acting, interesting design, and a great role to play in the story of HTTYD2. But, for the sake of time I'll stick to Eret's relationship with Stormfly. This is a guy who has certainly seen the horrors of what dragons can do. He has captured them for a living and knowingly sold them to a madman. Eret shows no sympathy when he first ties Stormfly up. He is rough with her, and he gloats over her fall by standing on top of her head. However, Stormfly does not hold this against him. It is interesting to note that one of Stormfly's only features that we can see in HTTYD1 comes into play in HTTYD2, and that is the fact that this Deadly Nadder is very, very forgiving. The one teen we see actually really hurt Stormfly in HTTYD1 becomes the very person that Stormfly bonds with. In HTTYD2 Stormfly holds no grudge on Eret, and she seems very playfully oblivious to the fact that he is trying to be gruff and macho. When she first plays "fetch" with Hiccup's fire sword, the animation on Eret is really good. Take a look at his face when she drops it at his feet for the last time. At first he is annoyed by her, but on that last drop he simply looks down and stares. She is going against what he thinks of dragons, and it is shocking him. It isn't just that she can be controlled by a master (he has surely seen Drago do that), it is that she is displaying the side of a dragon's nature that is loving, playful, and loyal... even to a fault. So, I really love that face of shock that Eret makes upon grasping that the dragon is trying to play with him. I imagine this could be considered the first tiny step Eret took in understanding what dragons were truly like. 

Then we get a "kidnapping". This probably didn't fuel Eret's affection for Stormfly, quite the contrary! He is not at all fond of becoming a dragon's plaything, and it probably takes his ego down a couple notches when he finds himself begging for mercy or being sat atop. But, little does he know it, the annoying attachment Stormfly has made for him will soon save his life. Drago is displeased with Eret, and he orders his men to "get rid of him". Eret has betrayed everyone. He has betrayed Drago to save his own skin, and now he has tried to betray the teens for his own self preservation. It doesn't work, and he is left with no crew and no friends... save one. Stormfly saved him, and he did not deserve that. That action shocks him, and I believe it really changes him. The next time he is with Stormfly, he treats her as an equal, thanking her, and asking her to let him return the favor. From that point on he loyally aids the people of Berk. Whether or not his actions are still somewhat selfish is debatable, but he does come to a truly humble stance by the end... praising Hiccup for what he has done and accepting Skullcrusher with an attitude of genuine humility and appreciation. All of this starts with a dragon who we had practically never seen shape a well written plot. It did not distract from the main movie or the main messages... in fact it really reinforced them.

Stormfly proved that it does not have to be Hiccup who changes people. The weight of keeping peace does not rest solely on Hiccup's shoulders. Hiccup tried to speak to Eret, but he did not have any real opportunity to do so. Instead, a perfectly ordinary Nadder did a perfectly extraordinary thing and changed the views of "The World's Greatest Dragon Trapper" in an incredible way. Eret is a display of what Hiccup believes, that people can change... and as remarkable as it is Hiccup was not the one to even help Eret come to his new worldview. HTTYD2 is a realistically complex film. Hiccup's beliefs are right and they are good, beautiful beliefs, yet his beliefs are truly tested when he comes against Drago... a man who will not change. Hiccup's worldview looks as though it has been completely wrong all along when this madman nearly kills him with his own dragon and murders his father in the process. But the world is not a simple place. Drago's actions shake Hiccup's ideas, but then the actions of Eret confirm them. Eret serves as a beautiful reminder in the dark events of HTTYD2 that the views of HTTYD1 are still valid. They may not be easy views to hold onto, but they are true. People do change, Eret changed, and it was thanks to the act of a simple, secondary character. It wasn't the main plot, but boy did it add to the thematic sweep of the entire film.

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