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“Hiccup” is your average teenage boy. He’s got a part time job, a crush on a cute girl, a father who’s a little over-protective, a couple of kooky best friends . . . oh, and every so often he has to help fight off swarms of fire-breathing dragons that swoop in, steal sheep and set the town of ablaze. So mostly average.
The real problem is that Hiccup isn’t the most Viking-y Viking in this secluded Viking town. His slim stature and frequent clumsiness leave him out of favor with most, including the village chief (the aforementioned father). By chance, he downs the mysterious “night fury” dragon, but instead of killing it, which would make him an equal in the community, he secretly nurses it back to health. It turns out, Hiccup’s lucky shot actually damaged the dragon’s tail, preventing it from flying. Good thing Hiccup’s good with tools. He goes to work in the forge and builds a new tail and sure enough, it works! Soon after, a bond forms and the two eventually learn much about who they thought was their enemy.
The movies is a winner through and through. The action scenes are on par with any modern blockbuster and the chemistry between the two main characters is delightful, even touching. Clearly marketed for young teens, the movie has a lot to offer adults and earns its Academy Award nominations. Solid direction, great voice work (Scottish Vikings?), and a beautiful score.
Scene Setup: Hiccup is keeping his dragon “Toothless” secret, visiting it every day in the secluded forest near the village. He has been trying to be the dragon’s friend and brings food to show that he means no harm.
More: Overall, the movie has plenty going for it. The opening action scene does a great job giving us all the information we need, despite the use of unnecessary narration, which we will concede given the target audience. There are some lovely moments between Hiccup and his father, and we really enjoyed the clever battle at the end. This is some really amazing animation. In watching the film again to decide which was That Moment, there was little doubt. The relationship between Toothless and Hiccup builds wonderfully to this point, and we learn just how intelligent the dragons are, how the humans have misunderstood them, and how lonely Hiccup really is living in a world where he just doesn’t fit. When the dragon allows the boy to finally touch him, we recognize that even a Viking needs some compassion.
The music is especially moving, written by John Powell, and it is used perfectly, beginning playfully before lifting us up right along with Hiccup.
Since none of us at That Moment In are children anymore, we are not the intended audience for this movie, but that never stopped us from enjoying a good animated children’s movie. The creators of these movies tend to pack their films with subtle adult themes and humor that would go over most kid’s heads, and this movie is no exception. Still, themes of friendship are universal, and the makers of How to Train Your Dragon hit all the right marks, making it a fun experience, even for adults.
Toothless is a delightful character and if the dragon hadn’t been done properly, the entire effort would have failed. Wisely, the animators used very familiar characteristics in designing their beast, employing attributes of dogs and cats. This further allowed the viewer to empathize with the dragon and make us “want one”.
Hiccup is the typical awkward adolescent and is suitably stuffed with all the tropes of teen fragility. Fortunately, Jay Baruchel voices him with pitch perfect honesty and vulnerability. His range is surprising. For a children’s movie, there is a lot of drama, and some very effective “adult” moments about sacrifice and loyalty. The story invariably draws comparison to a teen’s struggles to be accepted, but there is a deeper message about blind faith and independent thinking. When we follow what is accepted simply because it has always been that way, or taught to us by those we hold in authority, are we not abandoning our responsibility to learn for ourselves? Hiccup discovers this when he comes close enough to the “enemy” to see how similar they both are. There are a number of historical events that could be connected to the plot, as well as many current problems around the world. We avoid politics here, but the idea that we should consider what we accept more carefully is a good lesson for kids in the audience. Maybe a few adults as well. Okay, back on track.
In our chosen That Moment In, we see Hiccup patiently waiting for his opportunity, doodling in the sand, establishing that he isn’t giving up. In truth, where can he really go? We’ve learned he has no real friends in the village. His father is in continuous disapproval. He has a lot in common with the injured and trapped dragon. Nowhere to go, dependent on others to take care of him, and destined to remain right where he is. His attempts at befriending the animal have failed thus far, but the dragon has left him alone, aware he is there, but clearly not interested in harming him. Hicupp’s persistence is curious at first, but becoming more welcome. When Hiccup brings a fish, things shift. Toothless is a hunter and we see him try and fail because of his wounds. He accepts the food, and, remarkably, reveals something unexpected. The dragon can understand Hiccup. It’s not directly communicated, but he is able to tell that the boy has no fish for himself, and then offers him half of his. This connection between the two grows as the story progresses. When Toothless accepts that his new friend isn’t like the other humans, he surprises us further by mimicking the boy’s actions, drawing in the sand with a tree trunk. The bond is forming.
We all want to be noticed, to be accepted, to feel warmth. Hiccup lives in a hostile, masculine world where death and danger are everywhere. He is not mostly misunderstood by his father, and his friends dismiss him. He could have traded that all in if had done what other Vikings do and killed the dragon. But he recognizes in Toothless a fear that he also carries, and it is what draws the two together. Their symbiotic relationship becomes more than the apparatus Hiccup eventually uses to fix the dragon, it is about acceptance and trust.
Here we see that trust come together as they learn to fly as a team:
Who wouldn’t want to be friends with a dragon? Vet bills would be horrific and fire damage insurance would all but break us, but the chance to fly on the back of a winged serpent would pretty much top the wish list. How to Train Your Dragon is the next best thing, and young or old, there is joy to be had in Hiccup and Toothless’ adventures.