How to Train Your Dragon

20Apr10

Sunday I had the privilege of watching How To Train Your Dragon with  4 year-old and 6 year-old nephews. Yes! The film was done well and it was a lot of fun. Like most DreamWorks films, a lot of attention was paid to story.

The movie was an (way different) adaptation of the children’s novel by Cressida Cowell, who’s written a number of “How to . . .” books, including one on How to Train Your Viking by the dragon character.

Wikipedia

Hiccup lives in a Viking village on the island of Berk, beset by dragons. The goal of all Vikings in the village, male and female alike, is to kill dragons and defend the village, and this is Hiccup’s goal, too. He’s universally considered a screw-up, though. He’s too small, too skinny and everything he tries turns out disastrous. On the plus side, he’s a gifted tinkerer in the blacksmith shop, though most of his inventions also seem to cause chaos. He desperately wants to please his father, who considers him a deep disappointment.

The most feared of dragons is the Night Fury, and Hiccup, unnoticed, hits one with his bola cannon invention, in the process burning half the village. He goes out into the woods to find it and prove that he isn’t a screw-up, but when he finds it, he finds that he doesn’t have the heart to kill it, and instead frees it. It’s wounded, and isn’t able to fly far because of a lost tail wing. Hiccup secretly makes a new tail wing for it and they learn to fly together–each needs the other.

Hiccup’s father enrolls him in dragon-killing class, and Hiccup is able to use what he’s learned of dragons working with Toothless, the Night Fury to excel in classes and becomes the village equivalent of a rock star while his father is away hunting for the dragon’s nest. His love interest, Astrid, becomes suspicious and follows him to learn his secret. She eventually comes to respect him for having trained the dragon after flying with him on the dragon’s back.  Father comes back to the news of Hiccup’s success, and there’s new hope for the relationship, but Hiccup has done so well that he’s given the honor of killing his first dragon as the ultimate test for class, and he doesn’t want to do this–he knows it’s wrong.

I won’t spoil the movie by going into too much detail about how Hiccup (with Asrid’s encouragement and help) is able to resolve things but [SPOILER ALERT] Hiccup ends up with his father’s respect, becomes a hero and gets the girl.

Several neat things about the movie:

The dragons are mostly drawn fierce, with elongated faces and a multiplicity of fangs, but Toothless, the most feared, the Night Fury, is infantilized; he’s given a blunt cute face with retractable teeth that are short and “babyish” looking. Instead of shooting a stream of fire he breathes something blue and semi-sonic in it’s impact . . . it seems somehow more powerful than what the other dragons do, but more focused and less threatening as well. He looks like your pet.

After the [SPOILER ALERT?] final huge battle in which Hiccup saves the day and is saved by his dragon, Hiccup wakes to find that he’s lost a foot and is wearing a prosthesis made by his teacher (who’s lost a hand and a foot to dragons in the past). How did we get back the amputation theme? Synergy in the universe again!

The loss of the foot is a rite of passage here, the sacrifice of childhood innocence. It means that he’s an adult, a hero, an equal to his teacher and his father, fit to have the girl as an adult.

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