Nate Watches “How to Train your Dragon”

Disclaimer: I love dragons.  A lot.  Which means I’m always a sucker for them.  The only movie I’ve ever gone to by myself was D-War (exactly what I thought it would be ).  So of course, I went to see this.  Now I’m not someone who believes the Animation Age Ghetto – I enjoy Anime now and then and think Pixar has churned out movies more worthy of an oscar than most nominees.  However, since Shrek 2, I’ve found most of Dreamworks’ efforts to be less than stellar.

Imagine my joyful surprise that this was probably their best effort since.

As Jonah Goldberg mentioned, some have claimed that this movie is really about appeasement or peace or our current war or english muffins or something.  Balderdash.  Those who say such things are stick in the muds who have to force their opinion about whatever topic is current into everything.  No, this movie is about far more than just politics (and I highly doubt any such will be remembered with this film in the future), in truth it’s probably one of the best lessons on domestication I’ve seen.

Yes, yes, domestication generally took hundreds of people and many generations for every animal (except apparently cats) but this is far closer to the truth than most animations is a treat.  Part of me is annoyed at how Disney especially has warped some kids’ views on animals.  Of course this isn’t a view that doesn’t last very long when it comes in contact with the real world, but I wonder how many injuries and maimings might be linked to little girls and boys thinking beasts would just flock to them because they’re ‘good’.  No, in this film we see the main dragon actually act like a wild animal.  It’s only after many, many days of interaction, feeding, and more that he bonds with the main character, Hiccup.

However, while the first half of the movie starts out really well and unique, you can almost mark the point where the writers threw up their hands and went straight back to animated movie formula HARD.  Of course we end up with a big bad that the main characters have to defeat but the fight itself remains intelligent and interesting – it’s great to see a battle where characters actually use smarts and their advantages against a foe.

Even the character arcs in the film switch to predictable formula but the ones we get to know are so lovable and organic enough that the arcs don’t feel as forced onto them as others.

There are some clever nods to Viking history and culture but nothing very rigorous, they still modernize the dialogue and mannerisms.  However, this does give the film a sense of an “easter egg hunt” where you try to catch the Viking references.

A minor thing that bugged me: If you’ve seen redlettermedia’s 2 part review on Avatar, he makes a reference to “Disney eyes” (others might know it as “anime eyes”) – the use of big, wide eyes to represent openness and lovable.  Of course, the reverse is small, beady eyes to represent hostility, evilness, etc.  Maybe because I had watched that review close to seeing this one but I almost couldn’t ignore how blatant the manipulation was in this film.  The main dragon starts out with fairly standard, reptilian-slitted eyes (obviously).  You can literally mark his progress toward ‘tame” by how wide his pupils become.  By the end of the movie, they are big and wide.  Which I don’t entirely mind because obviously a beast that flies at night will have wide dilating eyes but NOT DURING THE DAY TIME.  Forget the physics of him flying, I kept wondering how the thing could see.  And of course, bad dragons have progressively smaller and beadier eyes.  It almost gets comical.

The dragons themselves are neat and interesting.  Although some are rendered “cute” for the family film, there are still some that maintain a look and sense of danger and viciousness.  Which of course is what kids boys really want so there should be plenty in the film for boys and girls.

If you’re a parent, there’s far worse films to take your kids too and it’ll be entertaining for you too.






Spoiler Talk: (don’t read if you plan to go see the movie)






As I mentioned before, I was quite bugged by the movie’s switch to formula.  What do I mean?  Well when fortune has allowed Hiccup to trap one of the dragons, he begins studying it and learning a lot about them in general.  At the same time, Hiccup is undergoing training to fight dragons for when the village is attacked.  He begins using the knowledge he gains from studying to “win” at the training.  To keep the movie to formula, everyone has to remain blind to this.

I know someone’s going to bring up objections so let me explain.

We do get hints that Hiccup is keeping his “tricks” hidden.  The first one he uses is stashing an eel that repels the dragons under his shirt then “shooing” the one they are using for training back into his cage.  Fair enough, but he keeps using non-lethal tricks.  Yes the main girl (his love crush) gets suspicious but even her auspiciousness doesn’t make sense.

What drives this failure is that we never see a successful training sequence (heck, we only see 1 and a half sessions in detail).  They make reference that the winner of the training will get to kill a dragon in a sort of final trial so apparently they are never supposed to kill the ones in training, but then how do the kids win?  Some mention is made of methods to incapacitate dragons but these require certain tools.  As far as anyone knows, Hiccup is using none of them and no one finds this odd.

Thus, when the main girl later confronts him saying “nobody gets that good that quick”… girl, as far as you know, HICCUP’S BECOME A WIZARD.  He’s accomplishing things that from their perspective and knowledge base should be considered impossible yet no one else realizes this and even the main girl is suspicious about the wrong damn thing.  Like Robots (but to a lesser extent), I think if they had stuck with the script’s direction and went with where it was heading we would have ended up with a much more interesting movie.

2 more things:

Hiccup had one line that bugged me when he said “everything we know about you [dragons] is wrong”.  I can sort of let it slide as usual teen hyperbole but still, it was obvious through out the movie that not everything the Vikings knew about dragons was wrong.  If anything, it was revealed that they didn’t know enough.

Also, at the very end I was slightly annoyed that we resorted to Disney’que animal-human relations.  When the movie has become full on formula, Hiccup and the rest just start training dragons by throwing down weapons and “being nice”.  It kind of undercuts the earlier half of the movie but part of me wants to let it slide just because the main characters were on a ticking clock.  I would have preferred that we had seen some of Hiccup’s knowledge reapplied instead of the “arms up in surrender” method.


2 thoughts on “Nate Watches “How to Train your Dragon”

  1. I agree with you for the most part. I would like to say in defense of the “arms up in surrender” scene that you could argue Hiccup has been taming the other dragons to an extent throughout the movie, so it was much easier for them to get used to being nice to humans with Hiccup helping the others. It’s still a bit of a stretch, I guess, but it didn’t bother me that much.

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