A Spoiler-Free Guide to How to Train Your Dragon 2 by: Blaine Grimes

Posted: June 16, 2014 by jperritt in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family
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dragonHow to Train Your Dragon 2 is a worthy followup to its 2010 predecessor; it will likely be in contention for the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture (yes, I know that The Lego Movie was released earlier this year and that Big Hero 6 is yet to come). The movie is also a mixed bag of ideology, replete with worldview implications. DreamWorks has stepped up their game—following the Pixar model—and created a movie that is for adults (almost) as much as it is for kids. Sure, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has plenty of juvenile humor, but it also has plenty of emotional and thematic depth. In other words, there is a lot of subtext in this film; and since I’ve only seen it once, it is very likely that I have missed some things. Realizing that many of you probably have yet to see it, I want to—as much as possible—offer some spoiler-free thoughts on Dragon 2. However, I’ll assume that you have at least seen the trailer. By highlighting the artistic beauty, theory of animal nature, emotional depth, and depiction of human sexuality in How to Train Your Dragon 2, this post will hopefully give you some things to consider as you watch the movie.

Beauty

When storytellers and filmmakers create fictional worlds filled with fantastical creatures and all manner of natural beauty and splendor, they do so because they are humans made in the image of a God who creates. The artist may suppress his or her knowledge of that truth (Rom 1:18), but their handiwork often betrays them; and this is precisely what has happened in How to Train Your Dragon 2. This movie boasts some excellent cinematography, which is what one expects when ace cinematographer Roger Deakins is the visual consultant. Some of the flying scenes in this movie are downright gorgeous; the color palette truly enhances the characters’presence on screen. As you watch, pay attention to the detail of the characters’wardrobe and physical features. The art department did a great job aging the characters; Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) even has some stubble! Simply put, How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserves praise for its aesthetic excellence.

dragon 2

Concerning Animals

One of the commendable aspects of the first movie is that it avoided the pitfall of humanizing the dragons and making the film a dissertation on colonialism. In some ways, How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues that trend; in some ways it doesn’t. The animators characterized the dragons in such a way that they act like dogs; and the citizens of Berk treat them as such, using them in sport and keeping them as pets. Hiccup’s mom Valka (Cate Blanchett), on the other hand, is a bit of a nut when it comes to her view of the nature of dragons. Now, I promised to avoid spoilers, so all I will say is that she really, really thinks dragons are special—human special. I half expected her to pull a Dances With Wolves and go around yelling, “Tatonka, Tatonka.”The antagonist Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou, is the opposite: he sees dragons as objects to be misused and abused.

Allow Dragon 2 to cause you to consider how we should view and treat our animals as Christians. Animals are not our equals; they are not created in the image of God. Yes, we have dominion over them; but we are certainly not to abuse them.

Emotional Depth

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has stock, cardboard characters aplenty, but it has some round, dynamic ones as well. One of the things I appreciated most about Dragon 2 is that it gives us in Hiccup a protagonist who is changing. He is becoming a man (remember the stubble I mentioned earlier?) and is learning to lead. He makes mistakes from which he learns and grows. Hiccup is a character we can think about—he is relatable. Our empathy with his character is what fuels our interest in the story. In addition, Hiccup is endowed with his own unique mannerisms and interests, such as his predilection for finding undiscovered places. The point is that realistic characters are hard to come by these days, and we can and should appreciate it when a filmmaker delivers.

We know from the movie trailer that Hiccup’s mother plays a prominent role in Dragon 2, and a fountain of emotional depth is unleashed when Stoik (Hiccup’s father, Gerard Butler) is reunited with his long-lost wife. It is one of the most moving depictions of marital love since Up, and is worth the price of admission alone. It reminded me that even for unbelievers, marriage is one of God’s greatest common graces. On a related note, you’ll want to look for the theme of sacrificial love, too (I can’t say much more without spoiling).

Sexuality

Some of the things discussed in this section might be minor spoilers; but parents, you will probably want to read this before you take your child to see the movie. News broke before the release that Gobber (Craig Ferguson), a secondary character, would come out as gay in Dragon 2. Gobber’s actual announcement is very short. While watching a seemingly awkward conversation between Stoik and Valka, Gobber leans over to Hiccup and says, “This is why I never got married . . . this and one other reason.”This admission is subtle and will likely go unnoticed by younger children. Having a gay character in an animated film is nothing new; it’s just part of our culture’s attempt to normalize the sin of homosexuality—although it is not a particularly preachy attempt. The unfortunate thing is that filmmakers are increasingly succumbing to the temptation to forgo good storytelling for the sake of being culturally relevant and politically correct. What exactly, you ask, do I mean by that? I mean that Gobber’s admission that he is gay adds nothing—zero, zilch, zip, nada—to the plot of How to Train Your Dragon 2. In fact, Gobber’s coming out, which is meant to pass for comic relief, actually disrupts the serious and heartfelt tone of the scene in which it occurs. And since Gobber’s homosexuality has no relevance to the story, there is no justification for its inclusion. Christian moviegoers need to be prepared to deal with the normalization of homosexuality in children’s movies.

I need to add one more observation about the depiction of sexuality in How to Train Your Dragon 2 before concluding, because homosexuality is by no means the only type of sexual sin. The character Ruffnut (Kristen Wig) becomes infatuated with Eret (Kit Harrington) at one point during the film. Of course, many movies for children feature romantic subplots, but Ruffnut’s relationship with Eret can only be described as lustful. In several instances, she salaciously gazes at him as his muscles bulge while he completes a task (this, too, is done for comedic effect). His biceps are shown in closeup to reinforce the lustful gaze. Attraction is a good thing; God created men to be attracted to women and vice versa. Lust is another thing entirely, and I believe that Gobber’s homosexuality and Ruffnut’s lust are related. One of the tenets of this so-called age of sexual freedom and tolerance is that sexuality is seen as a solely evolutionary function, no longer carrying any teleological significance. If sexuality is not seen as a glorious picture of Christ’s love for his Bride. sanctified for the marriage setting, is it any surprise that unbelieving filmmakers have no qualms about showing children how to behave sexually? It’s high-time we realize that movies are not safe, pure, and ideology-free simply because they’re marketed as a “kids”movie, meeting the G or PG prerequisite.

In spite of its problems, I still enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2. I said earlier that it was a mixed bag . . . and it is. The filmmakers have done some things very, very well. The problems with How to Train Your Dragon 2 are very real, but—and I don’t say this very often—this is a movie that makes me want to see another installment in the franchise (as long as they can avoid politicizing and preaching a social agenda).

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[Blaine Grimes is a servant of Christ, husband, watcher of movies, and reader of books. He once trained a dragon that takes the form of an overweight Beagle.]

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