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When I saw How To Train Your Dragon 2 last month, the first thing that struck me about the film was the absolutely brilliant portrayal of what I consider to be the best animated couple in film or television: Hiccup & Astrid.

Astrid-Hiccup

There were many wonderful things about this film but Hiccup and Astrid’s relationship was so on point, so exemplary, and almost unique in its portrayal. How many other films show such a great couple as just a backdrop, and not the main focus of the film itself? I can think of only two: Carl and Ellie from Up, and Nani & David, from Lilo and Stitch. Neither of those couples got the attention they deserved, nor were explored in detail. Hiccup and Astrid, however, got a few more moments, and from what we could see, they are the perfect team.

The thing is, all of their time onscreen together in the film combined wouldn’t even add up to 15 minutes. But that is precisely what makes them so great. I’ve heard love described as two people running towards each other in a field of flowers. For me, however, I think it’s more like two people running hand in hand in the same direction. There is a crucial difference; in the first picture, the relationship and the partner are the focus, but in the second, the relationship is helping both people to advance towards their goals and grow together.

It is clear from their moments together that Hiccup and Astrid care greatly about each other and are happy to be together; they are supportive and understanding of each other’s fears, wishes, and goals. Astrid encourages Hiccup when he needs a confidence boost, and they can joke around and make each other laugh. However, the relationship never overshadows the story. It never takes over their lives, and both are independently happy and very capable individuals.

Hiccup and Astrid work together a lot, but they aren’t overprotective of each other because both are equally competent — a fact they both know and respect. In the battles, the two fight independently and most of the scenes focus more on Hiccup with his family. They don’t need to see each other constantly — Hiccup frequently goes off exploring with his dragon, and Astrid has her friends and hobbies. This respect of space in a relationship is a huge breakthrough in pop culture. With so many other couples, the theme of being saved or being protected by a loved one lends itself to very wrong messages. I’ve had girls say to me that their boyfriends keep them from seeing family or other friends, and make them feel guilty for not spending every minute together. Even though this is by no means a desirable situation for them, these girls passed it off by saying, “it’s just because he really wants to be with me; that’s why he’s protective, so that’s okay.” It’s really not. It’s not romantic. It’s stifling, unhealthy, and more like possession than love.

With Hiccup and Astrid, their love strengthens each other in every aspect of life. Whether they are physically together or not, they know their partner will always be there. Their relationship makes them better people, in order to do what they individually need and want. They are the best versions of themselves, with and because of each other. At the end of the day, at the end of the fight, they are there together as a great source of comfort, stability, support, and joy.

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