love and the art of dragon training.

Emily and I just watched How To Train Your Dragon for the second time. Upon first viewing, I was really surprised with how much I loved this movie, as I’m usually not one for non-Pixar animated fare. I was wondering if I’d enjoy the film as much the second time around. I was quite pleased that I most certainly did. I’m pretty sure it’s one of my five favorite animated films ever.

As far as the general filmmaking goes, HTTYD is tight, with better pacing and development than most movies offer. The voice talent is strong, with some extra quirk thrown, since all these Nordic adult vikings speak with a Scottish accent, while all the viking teens speak with non-regional American accents (it’s awesome, because it doesn’t make any sense). Visually, the film is beautiful in all ways possible.

Plus, no nerdboy with an overactive imagination grows up without fantasies of riding a dragon… who the hell wouldn’t want to fly on the back of a beast called a nightfury?

Yet, while all that certainly ensures my enjoyment, it’s the fact that this movie can be read in such wonderful ways that secures it a place in my animated film canon. I was moved by messages in the film of learning to embrace who we are, even when our families and communities make that difficult, of challenging our cultural biases and prejudices, as well as the film’s treatment of the importance of community and intimacy.

If you haven’t seen the film, this is about to get a bit spoiler-heavy, so be warned.

Our young hero, Hiccup, has so much trouble finding his place. As the scrawny, sensitive, wildly intelligent son of the gruff, strong, fearless viking leader, he doesn’t fit into any of the normal viking categories. Yet, his inability to fit in results in his ability to question the values and assumptions of his world, changing everything for the better.

His sensitivity, which keeps him from killing the dragon he traps, makes room for an unlikely friendship which helps him learn that everything the vikings assume about their mysterious dragon enemies is wrong. Everything is read through the assumption that vikings are dangerous killing machines, while the defensiveness of the dragons is used as confirmation that this is true. Hiccup is the only one who looks beneath his worldview, to see that even the predatory habits of the dragons aren’t what they appear to be.

Things certainly get more difficult along the way, but eventually everyone comes to see the world more clearly because Hiccup insists on asking inconvenient questions no one else will ask.

Hiccup’s friendship with Toothless, a dragon who belongs to the most feared dragon species of all, the mysterious nightfuries, is one of my favorite onscreen relationships in recent memory. What begins as fear, uncertainty, and a lack of understanding eventually develops into a fiercely loyal friendship in which each is willing to risk everything for each other. The honesty of how real trust and intimacy develop was really beautiful for me to see in glorious 3-D.

Most beautifully of all is what Hiccup and Toothless mean for each other by the final scene. The events of the story leave both scarred, each is missing a part of themselves. Yet, in relationship they become more than they are alone. By the end of the film, they are only truly whole when they are flying together. I literally teared up both times when we see that the metal peg that has replaced Hiccup’s foot is made to connect with the saddle contraption that allows Toothless to be able to fly.

Maybe it’s just me, we always respond to stories in ways that are unique to us, and sometimes a story comes along that connects with us in a way we can’t necessarily articulate or understand. Whether it’s just me or not, How To Train Your Dragon struck me on both viewings as touching and insightful; reminding me to settle into who I am, as awkward and odd as I may seem, even to myself, and that intimacy truly costs us something, yet life in genuine community with others offers us more than we could ever hope to discover on our own.