Thursday, November 1, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover
In the movie, How to Train Your Dragon, there are numerous positive messages that this “Funny and Touching” film has to offer (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). The target audience is children because the rating is PG, meaning the messages will be soaked up by children’s pliable minds. One cliché that emanates throughout the film is to not judge a book by its cover. This theme is displayed through Hiccup, the dragons, and the intimate relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. There is also a problematic message that it is justified to be insubordinate with parents because elders are blinded by ignorant traditions.
We can see through the movie that the village people make fun of Hiccup for being weak and small because Vikings are large and strong. Several times, in the beginning of the movie, adults gesture to Hiccup’s outward appearance and tell him to stop “all of this” (How to Train Your Dragon Film). After Hiccup gains credibility by taking down the master dragon, an adult points to Hiccup and says the village could use more of “this” (How To Train Your Dragon Film). The moral is that the townspeople were wrong to judge him by his outward appearance at first. In the beginning, the Vikings belittle him as the town joke. He is refrained from fighting with his scrawny appearance. His outer appearance distracts others from realizing his useful talents.
Hiccup's uniqueness will eventually end the war between dragons and Vikings, but no one gives him a chance in the beginning because he is different. However, Hiccup possesses traits that qualify him as a good example to the target audience. This helps children learn from Hiccup. In his book, Understanding Movies, Louis Giannetti states that “Filmmakers create sympathetic characters by dramatizing such traits as idealism, courage, generosity, fair play, kindness, and loyalty” (406).  Through Hiccups courage, generosity, kindness and loyalty the message of the film is made clear; prejudices can cripple a town in decades of erroneous mores. Regardless of his outward appearance, he ends the years of strife between the dragons and villagers. This nods to inner strength and all the qualities previously listed. Villagers finally realize Hiccup has a lot to offer, but only after he saves the day by killing the queen dragon. Through Hiccup, we realize that big gifts come in small packages. Therefore, don’t judge a book by its cover because there is a lot to gain when we accept everyone, no matter how different they may look and act.  
In addition, dragons are erroneously stereotyped as something they are not based on their scary appearance. The judgment passed on the dragons over the 300 years of tradition exposes that Vikings are narrow-minded. The Vikings are convinced that dragons are ruthless and blood-thirsty.  In the book of dragons Hiccup flips through, the descriptions exaggerate the dragons’ lethality. For example, the Vikings believe that dragons will always kill on site. Hiccup discovers that this is not so. Vikings were wrong in their ideas about dragons. Vikings looked at the sharp teeth, scaly skin, big wings, and fire-breathing mouths and assumed all dragons were dangerous. However, through the diplomacy of Hiccup, we learn that dragons are not blood-thirsty. Dragons are only trying to gather feed for their master so they don’t get eaten themselves. After spending time with dragons in a nonthreatening way, a small dragon cuddles up underneath Hiccup's arm. Hiccup at this moment realizes the ignorance of Vikings ways: “Everything we know about you guys (dragons) is wrong” (How to Train Your Dragon Film). Hiccup mediates between his people and the dragon to reveal the dragons as soft and loving creatures that are only defensive when necessary. The village people, especially Hiccup’s stubborn father, are surprised to know that dragons can be their friends. This insinuates that wars can be started for wrong reasons because of wrong judgment. Even though dragons appear dangerous, they are not. This new perspective solves the townspeople’s and the dragons’ problems, as well as helps everyone coexist. This encourages children to get to know people before making decisions about them. The viewers may be impressed to befriend stereotyped or misunderstood kids at school.
Lastly, Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship prove that stereotypes can stiffle the best of friendships. Hiccup is rejected from his own people, but accepted by the one dragon he shot down. This starts Hiccup’s questioning of tradition because he knows at least one dragon is willing to be his friend. The two form a relationship that uses pathos to solidify the message. If Hiccup had written Toothless off as dangerous and blood-thirsty, he would have missed out on the chance to have a devoted friend. Hiccup used his untainted judgment to see beyond Toothless’ intimidating appearance. Hiccup says, “300 years and I am the only Viking that wouldn’t kill a dragon. […] I looked at him and I saw myself” (How to Train Your Dragon Film). Though unlikely, the two become friends and stop the stigma that crippled their two groups. Toothless is an exceptionally devoted friend when he comes to save Hiccup from an aggravated dragon. Hiccup reciprocates the loyalty when he jumps into the water to unbind Toothless. These emotional scenes solidify the argument that outward appearances can be deceiving. Hiccup takes the time to get to know Toothless and makes himself a life-long friend. Kids viewing the movie learn that two individuals from different worlds can be friends if outward appearances are put aside.      
While there are many positive messages in the film, problematic messages can be found as well. A possible problematic message is that the elderly are wrong and stuck in ignorant traditions. This may lead children to justify disobedience to parents or caretakers. We see this theme because Hiccup’s father is the one who rejects his own son for being different, goes into a battle that can’t be won without Hiccup, and changes his whole perspective in the end to be more like Hiccup’s. Hiccup’s own father is crippled by engrained myths about the dragons, treating them as enemies and sport. We realize in the end that the father and all elderly figures in the film were teaching wrong methods.
  The father’s narrow perspective is emphasized when he only sits down to talk with Hiccup after he thinks Hiccup has learned to fight dragons. The father says, “We finally have something to talk about” (How to Train Your Dragon Film). It is sad that the father only has something to talk to Hiccup about when he starts to seemingly become a good fighter. Through this scene Hiccup’s father is portrayed as inconsiderate, a quality that the father apologizes for in the final battle scene after Hiccup rescues the failing mission. Hiccup, on the other hand, is the smart one who saves the day. This may invite children to unremorsefully disobey their parents and take matters into their own hands. The message implied is—when parents get too stubborn and stuck in their ways, kids need to intervene to show them how it is done. This can be problematic for parents teaching discipline and promote rebellion. However, Hiccup never deliberately disobeys his father and does not talk back to his father. Hiccup also goes through dragon training like his father requested. Hiccup still has respect for his father and willingly forgives him. In the end, the relationship between Hiccup and his father is respectful and functional. Therefore, the message is slight and not enough to discredit the positive messages. There is more attention to the emotional connection between Hiccup and Toothless than the negative emotion between Hiccup and his father.  
The movie may send a few insubordination messages, but overall people, and children especially, receive a message to accept people for who they are, regardless of outward appearance and stereotypes. The stubborn Viking village is a perfect playground for teaching children not to judge a book by its cover. Hiccup may be small and clumsy, but he is diplomatic and caring. Dragons may be spikey and scaly, but they are humble and devoted. Traditions of the Vikings may be erroneous, but Hiccup clears up the problem by being different from the rest. Hopefully children will not pick up the message that elders are stuck in their ways and wrong. We can hope that children will not try to defy parents willingly, but will respect elderly who listen and care about them. Mostly, though, it persuades young ones to look on the inside, not the outside.
Rating: 3/5

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