How to Train Your Dragon, 1 and 2: Animal Issues in Children’s Entertainment

Posted: July 25, 2014 in FUN STUFF
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I come to you today to talk about an issue very close to my heart: how the animal liberation movement manifests in children’s entertainment.  I’m way more into children’s entertainment–movies in particular–than anyone my age without children of his/her own ought to be. And yes, as the title suggests, How to Train Your Dragon is fundamentally speciesist; but I still loved the first one and thought it was far less speciesist than most other kids movies of late.  The hero of the story, Hiccup, has to challenge his father, Stoic–a representative of the Old Ways, maintaining the status quo, etc.–to view and treat dragons differently.  Hiccup’s Viking community has engaged in decades, if not centuries, of war with the dragons. Hiccup cannot bring himself to fight them, and ultimately befriends Toothless: a sweet, shy and extremely rare dragon (they called his species “Night Fury,” and it was suggested in both movies 1 and 2 that Toothless might be the last of his kind).

In any case, the first film is all about this father/son dynamic, with the future of the empire hanging in the balance (yawn). Ultimately, Hiccup is victorious; he succeeds in convincing, after a long series of travails, his father and the other Vikings not to wage war against dragons anymore.  Hiccup loses a leg in battle and ends up with a peg leg, which scored this movie massive bonus points in my mind.  I loved that Hiccup kept his peg-leg and they didn’t let his real leg magically heal or grow back or whatever.  In real life, limbs don’t just grow back; sometimes kids do become gravely injured or ill, and they lose a limb or other body part for life.  I loved that this movie addressed this sad reality head-on and showed a crippled Hiccup still smiling and having fun with his friends and family at the end–not to mention gettin’ smooched by his rough-and-tumble girlfriend, Astrid.

I had hoped upon hearing of the release of a sequel that the film would begin by showing us the Vikings and the dragons peacefully coexisting.  Ideally, there would be no boundary; but I’d even be willing to accept a scenario in which the dragons are relegated to one side of the land, the Vikings to another, and they cross over only with consent from the other group.  Something like that—not ideal, still conveys notions of property and segregation with which I am uncomfortable; but at least the dragons would be liberated, not under constant fear of attack and not chained or fenced in in any way.  I was disappointed that instead, How to Train Your Dragon 2 opened with the kids from the first movie, now young adults, racing their “pet” dragons.  Of course, it would be too much to ask that we just leave them alone; they have to be put to use somehow, right? If they’re not our enemies, they must be our slaves!  Either way, they must be ours. BOOOOOOOO!

Still, obviously, because this is a children’s film, the dragons looked happy and excited to be racing. The drama quickly moved to the human element: Hiccup tells Astrid about how his father spoke to him recently about handing over the keys to the kingdom, and waaaaaa, Hiccup isn’t ready for such responsibility, he doesn’t know who he is yet, unlike Astrid who always knows who she is, quarter-life crisis, waaaaaaa.  Aside from the typical “I hate/fear becoming my father” dialogue there is also a brief and significant hint that I won’t ruin for you: “I’m nothing like my father, and I’ve never met my mother, so….What does that make me?”  Astrid then adorably reminds Hiccup to stay true to himself: “What you’re looking for isn’t out there, Hiccup; it’s in here [pats his chest].” She kisses his cheek–then spits violently. In a previous scene, Toothless had licked Hiccup’s face repeatedly; presumably, Hiccup still tastes like dragon saliva.  This bit has nothing to do with speciesism; it was just a lovely scene.  So there.

"What you're searching for isn't out there, Hiccup. It's in here."

“What you’re searching for isn’t out there, Hiccup. It’s in here.”

Back to the non-human animals.  Without ruining too much for you, there’s this super-dragon called Bewilderbeast (which delighted me personally, as a nearly-lifelong devotee of Badly Drawn Boy [loved them ever since I first discovered them at age…12? 13?]), which aside from being gigantic can also control the minds of other beasts.  The Bewilderbeast is controlled–not just owned, mind you, but straight up commanded, sorcerer-style–by Drago (Really?) Bloodfist, a crazy dude from a rival clan who is raising a dragon army. At one point Mr. Bloodfist commands the Bewilderbeast to take possession of Toothless’s mind, which causes Toothless to misbehave in a manner that proves fatal.  When Toothless is once again himself, Hiccup is still angry with him over his recent behavior and lashes out at him.  A character who shall remain nameless for your own good tells him, “Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things.”  

Bewilderbeast being controlled by the only person of color in the film.

The Bewilderbeast being controlled by the only person of color in the film.

This quote is huge; it not only speaks to the obvious issue of “If a human orders a well-trained animal to attack someone, and the animal attacks, it’s the human’s fault” but also has broader implications, such as “If a human mistreats a dog [say] and keeps it on a leash all day, the dog escapes and– in a fit of rage and/or hunger induced by inadequate care– bites someone, it’s the owner who should be punished.  The dog should not be put down.”  The putting-down of dogs–the killing of dogs–in situations like this is something I think about often and that really, truly bothers me.  A non-human animal that is well-cared for doesn’t just DECIDE to break his or her leash and chase someone.  For starters, breaking a leash is hard. It requires a certain level of commitment and determination; and if your human treats you well, why would you be so very desperate to flee in the first place? Secondly, even if you were determined enough to break your leash–or your owner cheaped out and got a leash that’s too wimpy for a non-human of your size and strength–your first impulse, assuming you were not starving and not being antagonized, would not be to attack a human!  It would be to get the Hell out of Dodge! Or get the squirrel, or whatever! Non-humans who are treated well (and don’t have rabies) don’t just attack people.

Yes, dogs are easily distracted; they may tug on a leash violently if, say, they catch the sight or scent of a squirrel.  But they will not “break free.”  At worst, they’ll just be annoying for a while.  It’s when an animal is starved and neglected that it becomes a real threat; yet whenever a human is hurt by a non-human, we immediately murder the non-human.  Immediately–like, within that same week.  As a matter of course.  Without batting an eyelash. And the owner? Depending on which state he lives in, he may or may not get a fine.  That’s it.  A financial slap on the wrist.  Awesome.

I digress, as usual.  Sorry. That quote was awesome.  The character who spoke it was equally awesome, and provided much insight into both coexisting with animals and how Hiccup came to be so very different from his father.  It even, come to think of it, explains to an extent why Stoic is so bitter about Hiccup’s “different-ness” in the first film, and pressures him so hard to stop playing at Dragon Whisperer and start slaughterin’. Unfortunately I believe that character was underutilized and, once introduced, sort of glossed-over after a couple of poignant scenes. I wish they’d shown him/her interacting with more of the Vikings; I’d be interested to see how various members of the Viking community would regard this person and speak of him/her amongst themselves.  It could have been very funny.

Now, back to how this movie tragically strayed from the reasonably high bar set by its predecessor:

***From the first scene, as I’ve mentioned, it is clear that the dragons are servants in Viking society and not equals (or even just neighbors).

***The Fate of the Bewilderbeast: In spite of that endearing quote above–“Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things”–when the moment is ripe ::SPOILER ALERT:: all of the dragons that had been previously captured by the “bad guys” join an uprising led by Toothless against the Bewilderbeast.  This made me sad, because we’ll never know for sure–I don’t know if the people writing this stuff even decided–whether the beast was in itself evil or not.  He/she was under the control of a madman who trained him/her to enslave and kill; but would the Bewilderbeast have done so if left to his/her own devices?  Could they not have made peace after the rebellion, the Bewilderbeast and the other dragons? Might not the Viking community have adopted him/her?  Even the voice of non-human animal advocacy, the Nameless Character for Your Own Good, doesn’t show a hint of remorse over the violent attack launched against the Bewilderbeast.

I supposed I have a hard time accepting that the Bewilderbeast himself was just evil because once Mr. Bloodfist isn’t around to command him and the others rise against him, he seems all too ready to just throw in the towel.  A truly evil beast of that magnitude could have easily gobbled up the entire Viking clan and at least a few of the smaller dragons before having to flee.  It’s quite comical how little effect the dragon masses have on Bewilderbeast physically; after a pretty long fight scene by children’s attention span standards, with fire and ice and lasers and all kinds of nonsense spewing from multiple dragon mouths, the most they are able to achieve is to chip one of the Bewilderbeast’s horns.  At this point, the Bewilderbeast slinks into the sea, seeming more bored than anything else.  Bored first, irritated a close second; not enraged, furious, bloodthirsty or disturbingly amused.  Rather, his air is that of: “Okay, I’ve had enough of these children throwing pebbles at me, peace out.”

Might this be an intentional prelude to a third movie, in which the “evil” Bewilderbeast comes back?

***Whereas How to Train Your Dragon 1 earned bonus points for ending with a disabled hero, How to Train Your Dragon 2 loses massive points in my mind because the sole human villain, Mr. Bloodfist, is clearly Jamaican. Racist!!!

Drago Bloodfist, the only bad guy: black.

Drago Bloodfist, the only Bad Guy: black.

The Good Guys: all white

The Good Guys: white.









Please don’t waste my time with your historical accuracy bullshit.  Yes, Vikings were white; does that mean that all of their opponents were brown? Hell, no.

That’s all for now. Thank you, come again 🙂

SARYTA_Blog Signature



  1. Astrid says:

    hello my name is Astrid is Is my husband’s name is Arold

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