I’m a Viking historical reenactor in what’s left of my offline life, and last week my group and I provided promotional color for a sneak preview of the new Disney animated flick, How to Train Your Dragon. We posed for pictures, gave away stickers and temporary tattoos to the children, and terrified people with our impassioned denunciations of horned helmets (in case nobody told you, they’re totally inauthentic).
This was the big IMAX theater out at the Minnesota Zoo, in Apple Valley. The theater people couldn’t have been nicer, and we got in to see the film for free (I marched past the ticket takers brandishing my sword, crying, “THIS is my ticket!”).
How did I like the movie? Well, it’s complicated.
One of my companions put it well when he said, “I’d have loved this film when I was eight.” It’s a well-done and clever movie, with interesting characters, good dialogue, and outstanding visuals (we saw it in 3-D, which made it even better). If you’re thinking of taking your kids to it, I won’t tell you no. It was lots of fun, and pretty harmless.
And yet, I have objections.
Actually, the horned helmets are pretty irrelevant. Historical accuracy has nothing to do with this film. It’s a fantasy film about fantasy Vikings in a fantasy world—the world of Wagnerian operas and Hagar the Horrible. The Vikings’ home, we are told, is a town called Birka. But it’s so radically unlike the historical Birka (which was a real, albeit far less geologically interesting, place) that you have to just accept it on its own terms.
No, it was the subtext that annoyed me.
My friend disliked what he saw as the typical Hollywood deprecation of strong manhood. This is another in a long line of stories where the quiet, physically less developed, more cerebral guy saves the day and gets the girl, while all the tough guys have to hang their heads in shame over their stubborn prejudice that violence has uses in the world.
I understand his feelings, although I couldn’t help identifying with the hero (whose name is “Hiccup”). I was a quiet, physically less developed, cerebral kid myself.
But my objection is, I think, related to his.
The lesson of the movie (this isn’t much of a spoiler, since it’s pretty obvious if you’ve seen the trailer) seems to be that there are no enemies, only friends we don’t understand well enough yet.
It posits a world in which everyone wants the same thing, and no one’s ends are incompatible with anyone else’s. Nobody really wants to kill anybody. We’re just conflicting with one another because we misunderstand each other.
This is very nice, but it doesn’t describe the real world. In the real world, there actually are people who want to kill us, not because they don’t understand us, but because they do understand us, and hate what they understand. And there are people on our side who know they have to kill, because they understand the other side, and know what they’re trying to do.
Also I think it’s a little self-contradictory (though no one will probably notice) that when the Vikings and dragons join forces in the end, it’s against a greater enemy, one that threatens them both.
Why didn’t they try harder to understand that enemy?
Ah well, it’s a nice movie, and I think your kids will like it. But read them the Chronicles of Narnia afterward.