Saturday, April 17, 2010
How to Train A Dragon was not a film I relished seeing. However, the story gives a provides an empowering message for children on several subjects we have discussed in class. There are strong female characters and a positive light shed on flexible gender roles that children are not used to seeing in their current cartoon repertoire.
The story is about Hiccup, a lanky, awkward teen boy who lives in some Nordic village that is characterized by its continuous battle against raiding dragons. Interestingly, both women and men fight at the front lines and have the opportunity to die defending their civilization. This seems to be a strong critique of the current military situation in the United States that does not allow women to fight in combat. Teens train to fight dragons, but Hiccup is geeky and physically weak, and is not allowed to train initially, though his father later relents and allows him to. The student who is best at dragon fighting is a girl named Astrid. Hiccup develops a weapon that shoots rope to trap dragons and captures some rare form of dragon that was yet unseen by any villager. Yes, the cartoon was pretty campy and stupid at times, but it redeemed itself later. The machine is a success and Hiccup hits a dragon, it is injured by the machine and can no longer fly. Hiccup “cheesily” befriends it, calls it “Toothless,” and makes a prosthetic device that will help the dragon fly with the help of a human rider to control the device like a stick-shift vehicle. Hiccup learns about dragon behavior from Toothless and uses it to become the best dragon fighting trainee. Hiccup's success angers Astrid because she is clearly the better dragon fighter, without Hiccup’s privileged knowledge.
The world that DreamWorks created showed women and girls as being naturally accepted as part of the working and fighting force. At one point in the film, Astrid responds to the way in which Hiccup treats her as an object. She punches him for having "kidnapped" her in order to change her mind about he and his dragon, forcefully reminding him that she is not his to control or maneuver. Later, after she decides Hiccup is not a patriarchal clown, she is the one who takes the perceived “masculine” role in kissing him first, or making the first move. Snoutlout, another young male dragon trainer, is shown to be the stereotypically "masculine" teen, and is seen as foolish and stupid throughout the film. Hiccup's father eventually realizes that his son's talents with inventions and working with dragons are valuable even though they are not stereotypically “masculine” like dragon fighting would seem to be. Thus, throughout the film gender roles are presented as fairly flexible. Hiccup is shown as skilled and smart even though he is not a strong fighter, Astrid and Ruffnut, another female dragon fighter trainee, are shown as feminine but physically strong and capable. The main message of the entire story is to accept everyone as they are, and to let each person use their own natural skills to help the whole, regardless of gender or gender roles.