How to Train Your Dragon
As a feminist mother of a young daughter, I am always on the lookout for movies with a positive message. As a mom who is a geek, I'm always looking for sci-fi and fantasy movies that are kid-appropriate. As an intelligent woman, I'm always looking for entertainment that has good storytelling. Luckily for everyone like me, How to Train Your Dragon fits all three categories.
First of all, the movie is great storytelling, with fantastic visuals (especially in 3-D) that will keep everyone from a three-year-old to an adult interested and engaged throughout the whole film. The pacing is excellent, without any dragging moments or exposition that will bore young kids, and with enough depth that parents won't get bored either.
But much more importantly, the story gives a great message for kids of any age. For those who don't want to have the movie spoiled for them, here's the basic rundown: strong female characters (women & girls), great attitudes towards disability, support for flexible gender roles, good messages about accepting people as they are, underlying message about understanding, and peaceful solutions as opposed to conflict. Now, on to the details...
The story revolves around a teenager, Hiccup, who lives in a Nordic village that is defined primarily by its ongoing battle against hordes of raiding dragons. Both women and men fight, and teens help as well, but Hiccup is awkward and physically weak, and is not allowed to help. The teenager who is best at dragon fighting is a girl named Astrid, whom Hiccup likes. Hiccup's father is chief of the village, and does not value Hiccup's other talents. Hiccup creates a machine to help him capture a dragon, so that he can prove his worth to the village.
The machine works, Hiccup attempts to kill the captured dragon, but cannot bring himself to do so; instead he sets it free. The dragon, injured by the machine, cannot fly anymore. Over time, Hiccup befriends it, names it Toothless, and creates a prosthetic device that will help the dragon fly again, but only with the help of a human rider. Meanwhile, Hiccup is learning about dragon behavior, and uses that information to become the best teenaged dragon fighter, all without killing a single dragon. Hiccup's success frustrates Astrid, because she has been training all her life to be a dragon fighter, and was the best until Hiccup's changed behavior. Astrid discovers Hiccup and Toothless, but has her mind changed after spending time with them. Hiccup and Astrid discover the dragons' nest, and realize that the dragons raid the village in order to feed a giant dragon who will eat them otherwise.
When Hiccup is chosen as the best dragon fighter, he must kill a dragon in front of the village, but he refuses. His father agitates the dragon into attacking, and Toothless arrives to save Hiccup, but is captured and imprisoned. The villagers use Toothless to lead them to the dragons' nest, but the giant dragon attacks them and the teenagers, all on dragons, rescue the adults, each using her or his own abilities and skills in a group effort. Hiccup and Toothless defeat the giant dragon, but Hiccup loses a leg as a result. The village accepts the dragons and lives in harmony with them from then on.
Do I think this movie was helped by the fact that a) it's based on a book written by a woman and b) three of the five producers are female? Yes, I do. And this is exactly why we need more women in Hollywood. I love having a movie that I can show my daughter over and over again, and not worry about the underlying messages she might be getting from it. Instead, I can show her How to Train Your Dragon as much as she wants, knowing that she's getting a message of inclusion and acceptance.