That Moment In ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ When A Boy’s Trust Is Earned
How To Train Your Dragon is a 2010 animated adventure film about a hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons becomes the unlikely friend of a young dragon himself, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed.
I’ve long been out of the demographic for children’s animation movies but I can’t deny that I still get excited about them, especially as Pixar and Disney tend to layer their films with plenty for adults to enjoy. DreamWorks Animation however has always been more than a little onboard with this thinking, their approach to CGI “children” films always seemingly more skewed to the parents than the kids, from their debut Antz to the Shrek series.
With How to Train Your Dragon, it might be said that they reversed gears and decided to cater more directly at a younger audience, most especially a pre-teen – early teen group, with a fun and colorful tale that centered on a young man looking to find his identity in a place that pressures him to be one thing while he strives to be something different – or at least recognizes that he thinks he does. The film was widely praised by theater-goers and critics, all agreeing that aside from the stunning animated achievements, the story was deeply compelling and relevant, putting great effort into making these characters relatable and identifiable. I couldn’t agree more and in particular, was completely drawn into the remarkable relationships within. Let’s take a look.
Based loosely on the British book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, and directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the story centers on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), your average fifteen-year-old boy trying to figure a lot of things out. 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. Okay, 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, during an attack, 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 sets about 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.
What really sets this apart from many other children’s movies is how ‘adult’ it feels while solidly keeping the tone and themes directed at its target. This doesn’t pander to kids, but presents them with real-world relationship challenges in a fantasy environment. Hiccup’s major issue is his father, Stoick the Vast, the chieftain of the Viking tribe (Gerard Butler), who is as big and burly as they come, a fearless fighter with old traditional acumen coursing through him, something he almost fully believes his diminutive son will never embrace. This relationship is handled very well and is crucial to much of the film, though I am going to bypass much of it in favor of the more obvious teaming of Hiccup and the titular dragon, most especially a moment shortly after they’ve met.
Remember that it was Hiccup who shot down the infamous dragon, where he then followed its trajectory out of the sky into the nearby woods. He discovered it wasn’t dead, but more importantly, wholly unable to finish the job, his heart not only not into such things, but noticing something humanizing by the injured creature as it lay their giving up. Moved by this, Hiccup decides to keep this dragon, whom he names “Toothless” a secret, visiting it every day in an attempt to nurse it to health. During this, he has made numerous but fruitless tries at being it’s friend, offering food and the like. Toothless though, isn’t so ready to befriend a human. They haven’t been the most hospitable neighbors as we’ll eventually find out. Anyway, Hiccups efforts pay off in what is surely the most inventive and emotional moment in the movie.
It’s been a few days since Toothless has been secluded in the forest, in a small glave surrounded by high steep natural walls that he can’t fly out of due to his broken tail. Hiccup has been doting over the dragon and patiently waits for his opportunity to get closer, even as the dragon seems unwilling, though never quite dangerous. Hiccup however isn’t giving up. And right away we begin to see the parallels between this characters. Hiccup is himself trapped by his lineage, the metaphorical walls of his family and tribe’s lifestyle leaving him caught and with nowhere to ‘fly’ on his own. He has essentially been shot down and made flightless.
Preferring to spend his days alone with the dragon than with his own people, one day, Hiccup is doodling in the sand by a small pool of water, as Toothless watches from nearby. Hicupp’s persistence has certainly stoked curiosity in the beast. The troubling things is that he can’t hunt, can’t even fish, so when Hiccup approaches him with one big juicy fish in his hand, things shift. Toothless accepts the food (I love this little bit as it reminds me of Dunbar and Two Socks from Dances With Wolves). What’s really remarkably though is what follows. The dragon can understand Hiccup. It’s not directly communicated, but he is able to understand that the boy has no food for himself, and then offers him half of his. He wants to share. This is the first step in their connection and leads to this tender moment on the sand.