This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” and here’s my commentary on “How To Train Your Dragon,” a
film opening today at The Majestic Theater in
Hiccup (the voice of Jay Baruchel) is a bright, skinny, sensitive
little Viking lad who just doesn’t seem to fit in with the big, burly,
warrior clan where his father, Stoick (the voice of Gerard Butler) is the
chief. They kill dragons.
In fact, that is considered the rite of passage to become a warrior:
to have slain your first dragon.
That’s what all the training for all the children leads toward:
so that they can join the perpetual fight against the dreaded nemeses
of their little isolated fishing village.
Hiccup, knowing he’s not going to overcome a fire-breathing dragon
with mere brute strength, devises a crude sling weapon, and in the fury of
the battle actually hits one, though nobody believes him in the
post-aftermath chaos. When he
goes alone to search for his wounded prey, he finds that he just can’t
finish him off. “Toothless”
(who actually has retractable teeth), laying there bound and wounded, seems
too vulnerable, too pitiable----too much like himself.
Hiccup returns to the wilderness daily to tend the wounds of the
“night dragon” who is at first wary, but then is glad to accept the
food. Hiccup, ever the
experimental inventor, devises a mechanical tail section to replace the one
Toothless last in the battle. But
Toothless can’t fly without Hiccup working the controls (like a leather
aileron). And Hiccup, of
course, can’t fly without riding on the back of Toothless.
And thus begins a very unlikely friendship between former foes.
Hiccup learns much about the dragons that is the opposite of
everything he was taught. They’re
not all fierce predators, they do have feelings, they do have weak spots,
they are capable of affection, and they are much more intelligent than
anybody thought. This new
knowledge helps Hiccup in his dragon-slayer training, but all the other
students can tell that he’s different from the rest of them.
Soon, everybody wonders how he knows all this stuff about dragons,
and finally, after a spectacularly unsuccessful hunting foray, Stoick
wonders, as well.
Who knew that the dragons were really drones, like bees, under the
thrall of the true monster in the fiery volcanic cave?
Will our geeky little hero find a way to help his hapless tribe?
Will he get the girl? Will
he finally earn the respect of his father?
Well, even though we all know how it’s going to end, it’s fun to
get there, and there are still a few surprises along the way.
“How To Train Your Dragon” is not only cute and sweet, as
expected in an animated film where children are the main characters, but
also surprisingly sensitive and intelligent, as if all life on the planet is
precious, and worthy of discovering on its own terms, and worth embracing.
Of course, the theology is not exactly Christian (“Thank Odin”?),
but the religious sentiment is similar, as long as you can tolerate the
truly diverse ecumenical tension.
“How To Train Your Dragon” is that cinematic species as rare as a
dragon: fun for the whole
This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM.