Where have all the orphans gone? In the grand tradition of children’s literature (and therefore, children’s films – now more than ever, it is inconceivable that there could be one without the other), the first obstacle any writer needs to vault over, sidestep or obliterate is the matter of the parents.
By its very nature, the child – our hero, our guide – needs to be alone, at least to begin with. Take The Wizard of Oz’s (1939) Dorothy Gale for example: she lives on the flat expanses of Kansas with her Aunt and Uncle who no doubt love her, care for her…but Dorothy’s loneliness is palpable. She’s a child, and at the mercy of forces as indiscriminate as the ‘twister’ that plucks her and the house from its foundations, tosses her over the rainbow. In Alice in Wonderland, a little girl tumbles down the rabbit-hole on a sultry, dull day by the river – again, alone – arrives in a world unknown, ripe with danger, always without help (and frequently full of confusion).
As a character, Hiccup – like previous Dreamworks creations Shrek, Donkey, Kung Fu Panda’s Po – is a composite rather than a truly memorable children’s character. Hiccup is neurotic, philosophical and (importantly) all too aware of his obvious position as a potential revolutionary. In short – Hiccup is an ‘adult in children’s clothing’; yet another victim of the “Dreamworks disease” that embodies its film’s role models with an unnatural, hyper-maturity. Am I being too cynical? Potentially – but only because these films are also themselves profoundly cynical and deeply patronising of children and their desire to change the world.