Monday, May 28, 2012

How To Train Your Dragon

I was very late to the party when it came to this movie. I knew that I wanted to watch it because so many people had such good things to say about it. But at the same time, other things seemed more important to rent and it never made it to the top of my Netflix queue.

I ended up watching it on a very long international flight. I wasn't in the mood for anything too depressing or dramatic, and wanted something that I felt was almost guaranteed to have a happy ending. I'm very glad I picked How to Train Your dragon.

I knew of the book that the film was (loosely) based on, and I wasn't sure how in the world they could manage to make a film out of it. But they did an amazing job, and the characters they created were so multi-dimensional.

The world was well realized, and the different types of dragons were fun and well done. And of course, Toothless was quite possibly the most ridiculously cute dragon ever animated. The story seemed perfect for any age, even the more frightening bits didn't seem too frightening for smaller children (though I'm not always the best judge of that). I think even adults will identify with Hiccup's struggles to fit into a world where he knows that he can't be what's expected of him.

I was especially impressed with the fact that this was a hero who struggles and wins through intelligence, curiosity, and learning. Hiccup doesn't just read up on dragons from the texts he's given, he tests the knowledge, finds what is and isn't true, and writes down his findings accordingly. He's a behavioral scientist, and it's awesome. He doesn't figure out that he really needs to summon his courage and hit things in order to win against the people who don't believe in him (the typical male coming of age story) but he has to get more intelligent and learn to be more strategic.

Overall, I highly suggest everybody watch it. But especially parents should watch it with their kids. These are the kinds of lessons our media should be teaching them, but it's done in a way that's not just fun and entertaining, but very well written and animated as well.


I have to spend some time talking about the end of the film, because I think it's also extremely powerful and deserves praise. Hiccup is able to tame and ride Toothless because he accidentally injures the dragon's tail, rendering him unable to fly. Hiccup designs a prosthetic tail fin that he can control to help the two fly together.

After the final battle of the film, you know that something bad has befallen Hiccup, but when he wakes up you see that he has lost a leg. One of the trainers for the kids is missing an arm, so this isn't unusual in the world they live in. But I think it's a very powerful moment that will teach kids amazing things without even trying. When Hiccup gets out of bed, walks on his new leg, and then discovers that it is designed to help him better control Toothless as they fly, kids will internalize a lot of great information. That you don't need a whole body to be a whole person, that you can and will do that things that you love even after an accident or injury. That Hiccup and Toothless are the same people after becoming disabled. The movie doesn't make any heavy handed statements about this, it doesn't try to teach a lesson, it doesn't become a "very special episode." Hiccup and Toothless just are. I don't know that I've ever seen a depiction of disability in children's media that was done as well.