The 3 Major Change Relationships: Parent-child, Romantic, Friendship
I’m fascinated by the power of story and characters. What makes one story capture the heart of its audience, while another remains average? After all the buzz of visuals or exciting plot twists dies down, what sustains the interest, creates the fandom, and makes the story relevant?
It’s the character relationship. And not just any relationship — a change relationship. Two characters change each other fundamentally, in their views of the world and themselves. Parent-child, romantic, and friendship are most often this kind, but not all qualify as change. Two characters can be romantic without affecting one another where it counts. It’s vital change. How a film executes this change relationship may be the most important factor in its success or failure.
How to Train Your Dragon teaches this principle in ways that astound me. But before I explain HTTYD, let’s put 16 other 3D animated films to the same test. They vary in financial success and story quality, and if you look closely, perhaps the variance has to do with its relationships. The more authentic it is, the greater the audience connects. And a connected audience is the key to a captivating story.
Now here’s the muddy waters. Feel free to disagree with my choices. As a Dragon fan, I’m biased XD
P.S. Didn’t include sequels. Scroll down for HTTYD at the bottom.
Brave — 1
One relationship rules. Fergus and Angus play a great father and loyal friend, but their bond with Merida doesn’t shift in fundamental ways like that with Elinor. Cons: Once Elinor turned into a bear, the mother-daughter struggle mostly subsided to the plot of undoing the spell.
Toy Story — 1
This is the iconic story of friendship. Not only hilarious for its character cast and adventure, the story never loses the focus that this tale is about these two individuals who don’t see eye-to-eye and yet are forced to work together. They become unbreakable partners. From start to finish, it’s their story.
Finding Nemo — 3
One of Pixar’s most beloved films — and check out its 3 vital relationships. It’s like Toy Story multiplied. They are fresh yet universal, with lots of one-on-one time (like Toy Story and other character tales) so we connect to these characters.
Kung Fu Panda — 1
Definitely an adventure movie, with lots of interesting characters but not as much focus on character relationship as the above three.
Tangled — 2
Beautiful fun film following in steps of princess movies before it. Rapunzel and Flynn are the most complex, though it doesn’t delve into quite the romantic depth and poignancy like a film such as WALL-E.
Wreck-It Ralph — 2-3?
Romantic: Felix/Sergeant Calhoun?
An under-appreciated character film disguised in a kiddie adventure game? Lots of depth between Ralph and Vanellope — they make the movie.
WALL-E — 1
The bond of WALL-E and Eve is so unique and precious, made special by the unique characters. Just like Toy Story and Brave, it focuses on just one relationship and excels in creating a beautifully engaging character story.
Up — 2
This type of relationship is like WALL-E above. The love story is deepest. Like WALL-E, it is all heart.
Cars — 3
Friendship: Lightning McQueen/Mater
Friendship: Lightning McQueen/Doc Hudson
Romantic: Lightning McQueen/Sally Carrera
More on the adventure side of the story scale, similar to Kung Fu Panda. However, there may have been more one-on-one time among characters and McQueen.
Ratatouille — 2
Pretty good, but sometimes it seemed the partnership of Remy and Linguini served more of the plot to cook than for its own sake. Nice romance relationship, though.
The Incredibles — 1
Romantic: Mr. Incredible/Elastigirl
Love the character dynamo. Even though it feels adventure, the hubby-wife struggles (plus family) put so much more heart in this than other adventures.
Shrek — 2
Been years since I last saw this, but the Shrek/Donkey friendship is hard to forget.
Madagascar — 1
Another more plot-driven adventure, with just enough character moments for it to join its brother Kung Fu Panda.
Rise of the Guardians — 0-2
Though it’s much deeper than many adventures, it’s still mostly plot-driven. Jack interacts with lots of characters but it feels like his relationship with himself is the focus. Nothing stands out as a clear vital relationship; even his moment with Jamie is more motivated by the plot to save the last burning light and less for their friendship’s sake. Still, I found so much potential.
The Croods — 2
Very group-adventure family movie. Focus shifts from Eep to Grug halfway through. The characters are more archetypical, and so are the relationships.
Ice Age — 2
I found it so interesting how its plot was so simple that the entire dynamic and appeal of the movie resulted solely from the amazing interactions of the 3 main characters. Surprising self-sacrifice. Definitely a friendship movie.
How to Train Your Dragon — 3
Have you been noting the number of character relationships per film? Six have 1, six have 2, and only about four have 3. And only Dragons has all three types: Friendship, Romantic, and Parent-child. Each changed both participants’ views of the world and of each other — there are enough one-to-one for each of the three relationships to move it to vital status. It is not solely one type of story. Each of the three touches on a different aspect of life. You can find romance and father-son and friendship (even pet bonding) in the same story. Thus, it appeals to a wide range of audience and carries depth and complexity amidst its simplicity. Unlike nearly every other film that requires character growth to occur alongside the plot, HTTYD’s whole plot is the character relationships. And that makes it unique, and its depth of character ensures its captivation as a story.
The fact that I haven’t in-depth analyzed (or recently seen) some of the films above makes these a little biased XD But I really wanted to do a comparison of films with HTTYD, because I’ve always felt Dragons to surpass just about everything in depth and variety when it comes to storytelling and character change relationships. People from all walks of life can find something in Dragons because every human relationship is represented.
And for those not into people, there are always dragons!