Should Dreamworks Make a Sequel to Dragon?

Steven Zeitchik has an insightful post on the Los Angeles Times blog where he makes the case for not making a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon. It’s interesting to observe the changes in attitudes to HTTYD over the time it has been in the public consciousness.

Before opening weekend, it seemed that this would be one of the softer Dreamworks releases which we would go and see and enjoy but ultimately it would fade from our memory, just as Monsters Vs. Aliens has. At this point, there wasn’t much talk of a sequel at all, just the possibility of one.

However, since then, the film has shown remarkable strength, remaining at number two before reclaiming the top spot again. Attention was drawn not only to the resounding quality of the film, but also that strong word of mouth among cinemagoers was playing an important role.

Now, some weeks later (on a fine May evening that may have me going to see the film for a second time), details are emerging of a sequel, spin-offs and a TV series, in much the same vein as The Penguins of Madagascar.

Steven makes the point that HTTYD marks the first Dreamworks film since Shrek that has appealed to audiences on the same level as a Pixar film and that that company is a bit more selective in which properties it chooses to exploit through sequels. On a side note, he points out that the film has performed “…not bad for a star-less spring cartoon.” which as regular readers (all three of you) will know really grinds my gears, seeing as the film very much has all-star “talent”.

This is a fine analysis except that it ignores who instigates the decision to create sequels at Pixar. It would appear that it is Disney, not Pixar that is pulling the strings on that one. Not only was Toy Story 2 originally supposed to be a direct-to-video release, the slate of sequels announced in recent times have all occurred after Pixar’s sale to Disney, even though some films (such as Monster’s Inc) were released while the Emeryville firm was independent.

Steven calls for Dreamworks to hold HTTYD up as an example of their creative capabilities. I myself recommended at the end of my review that you should go and see it before its affect is reduced by the deluge of sequels to come.

Realistically, we will see sequels, lots of them. Besides being based on a series that encompasses seven books in all, Jeffrey Katzenburg has a long history of milking properties for all their worth. Shrek is perhaps the finest worst example and we’ll finally see that flogged-to-death series finally put out of its misery later this year.

Being an engineer means I tend to have more of an analytical mind than creative folks. I like to point out that creative folks are more likely to read The New Yorker while I tend to read The Economist. It also means that from a hard business perspective, sequels are a lot more profitable than the originals, mostly because studios tend to reduce the budgets and stretch everything just to make the extra nickel. In Monsters Versus Aliens’ case, the foreign performance didn’t justify a sequel. Fair enough, but I would rather see that movie succeed and get a sequel than  a superior movie like Dragon.

Right now the success and praise that HTTYD has received from the general public, fans and serious animators alike is certainly well deserved. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the second the sequel is released, the aura will fade.