Being a teenager is hard work. Peer pressure calls on them to conform to the demands of the group. Parental pressure pushes them to follow the ideals of their parents. And cultural pressure says they must fit into the mold to be like everyone else. It's a wonder anyone makes it to adulthood.
"How to Train Your Dragon" tells the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of the chief of the Viking village. Hiccup is a nonconformist; he's not strong and burly like his father (Gerard Butler). He doesn't fit in with those his own age. In fact, he just doesn't fit in anywhere.
Hiccup apprentices with Gobber (Craig Ferguson), the local blacksmith and an old warrior.It's here that Hiccup forms a weapon to use in war.What does the village war against?
Dragons come routinely to the village to steal. There are all manner of dragons that swoop in from the night skies to take away livestock.
Stoick, Hiccup's father, feels the time has come to take the war to find the dragon's nest and kill them at the source. He leaves Gobber to train Hiccup and the group of teens to be the next generation of dragon-fighters.
Hiccup has already tasted some of this. During a battle, he took his special weapon and shot into the night. Amazingly, he captured a rare dragon, a Night Fury, that no one had ever seen before.
As time passes, Hiccup comes to understand things about the dragon, and dragons as a whole – things his people do not know. They are not what the folklore and books tell. He discovers things that can be done to tame the dragons and interact with them. And of all things, Hiccup learns how to use the dragon to fly.
This newfound understanding leads to sudden fame. Hiccup can deal with dragons during the training in ways that no one else can. He is thought of as a mighty warrior.But when his friendship with the dragon is discovered, his father turns his back on him.
All of this sounds like boilerplate storytelling. There is no new ground gained here in cinema.What makes this movie so special, though, is the way it tells the story. The characters are very real. A good example is Hiccup's contemporary, Astrid (America Ferrera). She is a girl, a young woman, who is strong and determined. She is unafraid but also open. When Hiccup introduces her to the dragon, she does not close herself off to trying to understand what Hiccup knows.
"Dragon" also has humor. The character of Gobber is comic relief, and a lot of humor surrounds the awkward teens learning about the dragons.
What makes this movie good is the way Hiccup doesn't give up on his newfound friendand his unwillingness to let the village or his father determine his way of dealing with the threat of the dragons. He will not give up on his beliefs. His determination to bring about change does hurt, but he does not walk away from his knowledge and experience.
My 13-year-old saw "Dragon" with a friend and both loved the movie. They enjoyed the humor and the lesson. As parents, we can push our teens in ways that are counterproductive. The culture pushes them as well. We need understanding to help them as they discover their own truth and give them guidance to know what is truth – not some idea about truth.
A small question about the movie: The characters speak in a Scottish accent. Both Butler and Ferguson are Scots, but I thought Vikings were Scandinavian. Why not use that accent? Was it too harsh on American ears?
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images and brief mild language.
Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Writers: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders and William Davies (based on the novel by Cressida Cowell)
Cast: Jay Baruchel: Hiccup; Gerard Butler: Stoick; Craig Ferguson: Gobber;America Ferrera: Astrid; Jonah Hill: Snotlout; Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Fishlegs.