Tag Archives: Dreamworks Entertainment

Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

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At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

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Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

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This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

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On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

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Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

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Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

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This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

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Rise of the Guardians

I have wanted to write a post about Rise of the Guardians since a few hours after I saw it. But nothing would come to me in a distinct way, and so I have let it lie for a while. However, with Easter approaching, I thought it best to get down to “tacks of brass,” as one character in this film put it. The post you are now reading is the result.

First and foremost, I love Rise of the Guardians. It is a GREAT film and, sadly, it was panned by the “critics.” (Why do the critics always seem to get it wrong?!? *Aggravated sigh.*)

Rise of the Guardians centers on Jack Frost, a boy who the Man in the Moon made a powerful winter specter. This is after he ended up at the bottom of an icy lake. As a winter spirit, Jack has the ability to cause snowstorms, blizzards, frosts and – best of all – SNOW DAYS!!!

Jack loves to have fun. A spirit with a mischievous, sometimes nasty sense of humor, Jack spends lots of his time with children. But unlike Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy, no one believes that Jack actually exists. Jack can have all the fun he wants, but because no children believe in him, they cannot see him. People walk right through him every day.

Jack does not understand his life as a spirit. The Man in the Moon put him here, but Jack has no idea why. It makes him angry, sad, and frustrated. (This may explain the nasty bent to his sense of humor.)

In the modern day, Jack is recruited to join the Guardians of childhood. These Guardians are: North (Santa Claus), Sandman (or Sandy), the Easter Bunny (or ‘Bunny’ for short), and the Tooth Fairy (also called ‘Tooth’). They explain that the Man in the Moon has decided Jack should become a Guardian as well, which startles him. Jack has tried talking to the Man in the Moon on his own for years and come up empty. Now he learns that the Guardians apparently have had a direct line of communication with the “big guy” since year dot.

But the Guardians do not let Jack leave. They have a problem. (Well, two, actually…) One problem is Pitch Black, a.k.a. the Boogey Man. A powerful spirit of fear, Pitch has had no one believe in him since the Dark Ages, when the Man in the Moon first appointed the Guardians to watch over the children of the Earth and protect them from Pitch’s influence.

Two: Jack does not want to be a Guardian. He likes children just fine. It is the “bribing” children with gifts and goodies he does not want to get in on. He would also really like to avoid the deadlines and hard work North, Bunny, and Tooth put into their jobs. For some reason, he never realizes that Sandman has no such duties attached to his job. Then again, maybe Jack knew that but did not want to land himself in an argument he could not win by mentioning it.

Jack is drawn into the fight with Pitch despite his initial reluctance, and in the process he learns why the Man in the Moon made him a winter sprite – and why he has been chosen to be one of the Guardians of childhood.

I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum for those of you who have not seen the film. This is going to be hard because the inspiration for this post is a piece of dialogue within the movie. After Jack is told that the Man in the Moon thinks he should be a Guardian, North takes him to his personal workshop and demands to know what Jack’s “center” is. What is it that makes Jack Frost – well, Jack Frost?

In the process, North explains that his “center” is wonder. He sees only the “wonder” in life, like “lights in the trees and in the air.” “This wonder is what I put into the world,” he adds, “and what I protect in children.”

The important part of this piece of dialogue is how North points out that he “puts” wonder into the world. We are all born for a purpose, which Chris Pine points out in the behind-the-scenes for the story. One of the main questions every human asks is “why am I here?” That is the question Jack has to wrestle with in the movie, and which we all have to figure out ourselves.

But the thing I noticed was that North said he “puts” wonder into the world. It is not just that he reveals it and protects it; he “puts” it into the world. And that got me thinking: aren’t we all supposed to “put” something into the world? Not necessarily a new invention or a new discovery so much as what we ourselves can do and think. Aren’t we all called to put something good into the world, something(s) like wonder, hope, and happiness?

The fact is that we are called to put those things into the world, and more. But, of course, “many are called, few are chosen.” This is best exemplified by the film’s villain. Pitch Black may have been made a sprite by the Man in the Moon, too. We do not know this for sure, and the movie gives us no hints. However, if that is the case, then maybe Pitch was supposed to put something good into the world as well.

This is not how he uses his power, though. Pitch puts fear into the world not in order to help people but so that he can control them. He specifically mentions that he wielded a lot of power in the Dark Ages, prior to the arrival of the Guardians. Where he could use his ability to help people overcome or face their fears, if he wanted to, he instead uses his power to control them.

North, Tooth, Bunny, Sandman, and even Jack do not do this. They put things into the world to help other people, specifically children. North puts wonder into the world, while Bunny keeps hope alive for others. Tooth protects memories, the precious memories of childhood. Sandman protects dreams, the most powerful things in the world. Without dreams of aspiring to be better than we are, we will never get anywhere.

And Jack – well, explaining what he puts into the world would be telling. I am not going to do that. However, I am going to spoil a little something extra and explain why Jack is not seen by children until the end of the film. For all the time he has been a sprite, Jack Frost has used his powers to try and convince people that he exists. This does not work because Jack is using his power for his own gain.

At the end of the film, though, he uses his power to help the Guardians when they are at their weakest. That is when he becomes visible to children, for the first time since he was made a spirit. When Jack uses his power to help the other Guardians he becomes a Guardian as well. By using his powers for someone other than himself, Jack earns his heart’s desire: to be seen and loved by children. To no longer be alone.

Another great thing about the film is that it emphasizes the importance of children. This may be why the critics panned it. The Guardians are supposed to protect children because “they are all that we are, and all that we will ever be.” Too true.

If you have an opportunity to see Rise of the Guardians over Easter, I highly recommend it to you, readers! The film is actually set in the three days prior to and including Easter. It is definitely a good film for the season – even with all the snow in it! So, readers…

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian