How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Rated: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.
Length: 98 minutes
Grade: AA-/B+A+A=A
Budget: $165 million
Box Office: $494 million (218 U.S., 276 Intl.)

Written by: William Davies (Flushed Away, Twins), based on the children’s books by Cressida Cowell
Also Written & Directed by: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, and writers for Mulan)
Starring the voices of: Jay Baruchel
With the voices of: Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hil, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig

On a fiercely independent Viking island, the disappointing son of the uber-manly chief wants nothing more than to kill a dragon. However, after he wounds the most dangerous type of dragon there is, he can’t do the deed and winds up secretly befriending the monster. This leads him to know more about dragons than anyone ever has but it causes conflict with the village and his father when the truth comes out.

Entertainment Value: A
Dreamworks Animation may finally have found a winning formula, whether by making an already-popular book series or by using former Disney writer/directors. But in any case, this is the second big success for them after Kung-Fu Panda, not in the sense that they make money (since Shreks and Madagascar did that), but in the sense that these are their only two movies to rival Pixar in quality. Excellent characters, plot, writing, and animation. Our kids absolutely loved this, and it has an unbelievable 98% favorable rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Superficial Content: A-/B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A-
One of the funnier moments in the movie has to do with a joke about women’s attire, and there is some very mild language. The only real concern here is violence, which I have to rate fairly at a B because there’s so much “peril” and combat in the movie. That being said, there actually isn’t much killing (although there are enough big action moments to possibly bother a younger child), but the ending has a rather unexpected element to it that might bother some but I thought was brilliant. Our kids (4, 6) loved it, so I’d say PG-5.

Significant Content: A+
There are three kinds of movies. Movies that encourage us to be sinners, movies encourage us to overcome sinners, and movies that teach us to redeem sinners. This is as close to category three as you can get without actually being a movie about sin and justice. But it’s certainly a movie about compassionate mercy and the possibility of bridging differences based on a shift in paradigm about our enemies. Yes, this movie has the rather common theme of kids knowing better than parents, so parents must be careful to listen to their kids. But the big message is that making war is easier and more obvious than making peace. It’s ultimately about a culture of war learning that its identity as warriors is part of the problem. The underlying premise is that we start to move toward peace when we finally realize that we have more in common with our enemies than whatever divides us.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
The animation and the story are brilliant, obviously. But the thing I loved most here was the way the plot all worked itself out, including the final development. The books were written starting in 2000 and then 2003+, so it’s hard to know motives for sure. But I think at least some people are going to see this movie as a vivid parallel with our current global conflict with radical Islam. As such, much of the movie might seem like a kind of relativism regarding the terrorists (dragons). But the ultimate point is that most dragons are relatively decent but rigidly terrified of a fearsome over-dragon who coerces them into evil a la Stalin, Hitler, or bin Laden. Thus, if we can overcome our own prejudice, eliminate the corruptive leadership, and find common ground with our enemy, we can really make a much better society. As I said, I doubt this is the point of the movie, but it’s an unfortunate fact about all art that it gets made at a particular historical moment and therefore can’t be completely disentangled from the times. Even the Adventures of Robin Hood had clear cultural significance.

Discussion Questions:
~When two groups are in conflict with each other, why is it usually the children who are most likely to find a way to bond with each other rather than the adults? Consider Romeo & Juliet, for instance.
~Every culture wants its kids to grow up and reproduce its values. But how should parents and children balance the demands of conformity with the importance of each individual being whoever God made him to be?
~Why do children have such a deep need for their parents’ approval? Is it a form of abuse or neglect when parents don’t give this?
~To what degree do you think Americans are like the Vikings on this island?
~How does being warlike or prone to violence prevent you from seeing other solutions to a conflict or problem?
~How important to making peace with enemies is it to view them as fellow humans who are very much like us? How important is it to making war with them to view them as evil, subhuman or worthless?
~If this movie is taken as a parable about our current global conflict, what lessons do you draw? What does the end scene have to say or show us about soldiers returning home? How did you react to that scene? Why might someone say that scene was a truly exceptional way to end this movie? Why is it important for movies to acknowledge that military victories have a cost?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Hiccup’s moment of mercy.
~Befriending Toothless.
~Toothless coming to the rescue.
~Hiccup feeling like his entire self is a disappointment to his father.
~The end after the big fight.
Overall Grade: A
Very impressive, and much more entertaining than I even expected. It’s a movie with lots of meat, even if kids might never think much about it.

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