Photo: ‘How To Train Your Dragon’
With the final installment of the trilogy releasing in 2019, ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ has seemingly faded from our memories. Though the last thing we want to do is forget about this borderline genius piece of media. Ahead of its time and still effective in its purpose in 2022, the ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ trilogy was beyond well done in the realms of storytelling and character building. Contrary to popular belief, this is more than just a children’s movie about dragons. The trilogy was humorous, made mature decisions, and dealt with heavier topics such as loss and animal cruelty. Carrying the central message of standing up for what you believe in regardless of majority opinion, the trilogy managed to incorporate differing life lessons in each installment without coming off preachy. Truly incredible, ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ is the franchise that keeps giving.
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‘How To Train Your Dragon’ 2010
Opening with an introduction to the land of Berk, narrated by main character Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the first installment of the trilogy skipped straight to the point. Vikings kill dragons and nothing will ever change. That is until Hiccup shoots down the legendary Night Fury – a dragon no one has ever seen. Though upon deciding to kill the dragon, Hiccup discovers that he simply can’t do such a thing. Instead, he decides to study the dragon which gives him a certain advantage during his dragon training sessions. This advantage eventually backfires when he must kill a dragon in front of the whole village. Unable to do so, Hiccup is attacked.
The dragon which he has been caring for, Toothless, rushes to the rescue and is captured by the Vikings. Later, chief Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) – Hiccup’s father – uses Toothless to gain access to a dragon’s nest. While engaged in a battle against the alpha of the nest, Stoick understands that all along the dragons have been stealing food from Berk so they themselves wouldn’t get eaten. Hiccup and his friends arrive at the nest on dragon-back and through some clever strategy end up defeating the alpha and freeing the dragons of the nest. Hiccup is injured during the fight, however, Toothless saves his life which earns Stoick’s respect. Towards the end of the movie, everyone on Berk adopts a dragon and the village becomes a dragon paradise.
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Now that may not seem very special. When boiled down the story is very basic – guy who has no confidence or real special abilities learns that he actually does have special abilities and starts believing in himself. Sure that’s the end goal, but with this trilogy, it is much more about the journey. Sure the animation itself leaves a lot to be desired, but the rest of the production makes up for it exceptionally well. For example, think of another mainstream animation released between the late 2000s and early 2010s that demonstrated overcoming restrictions of disability through accommodations. That’s right, you can’t! As with Toothless and his prosthetic tail, so with Hiccup and his prosthetic leg. ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ provided important representation to children with disabilities who may not have had other animations or films to look at when it came to seeing someone like them on screen. In another instance, this installment dealt with concepts of defiance and building your own identity when your whole life you’ve been told that you have to be one certain way in order to be loved. Hiccup learns what makes him special and how to take charge of his life in order to save something that is important to him.
In any case, this movie was simply phenomenal. Funny, adorable, emotional, and completely ruthless.
‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ 2014
In ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ we witness as Hiccup grows older and starts taking charge of the people that he will need to lead once his father passes the title of chief over to him. That growth is reflected in his confidence. Headed out on a flight, Hiccup is captured by dragon trappers which he narrowly escapes. Upon returning to Berk he discovers that the trappers work for a mysterious, famed dragon master. He chooses to confront the trappers and make them take him to this dragon master. However before that can happen, his father arrives to take him back home. Hiccup flies off, angered by the interference with his plan, at which point he is taken by a concealed dragon rider. This dragon rider turns out to be his long-lost mother. Hiccup’s family is reunited as they decide to face the dragon master for the safety of their dragons. The encounter does not go as planned and Stoick is killed by a hypnotized Toothless. Later on, Hiccup and his friends finally defeat the dragon trappers, and peace is restored.
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This installment dealt with heavy topics such as loss and grief as well as animal cruelty. As uncommon as it was at the time, ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ took a chance on explaining death to its younger audiences. Surprisingly effective in its purpose, the film showed us that loss does not have to cripple you and instead can serve as motivation. It also took a chance on developing empathy for animals in its viewers even though the topic was highly controversial at the time. These were mature decisions for the plot and served the purpose to tackle important topics through accessible means. The humor of the second installment was also more grown-up but still effective with younger audiences. The animation had advanced massively and was gorgeous by 2014 standards, still holding up well in 2022. The storytelling, worldbuilding, and character profiles improved as well, bringing an aura of wholeness to the franchise. This film really felt like it was expanding upon the first instead of trying to make something completely new. Yet it didn’t feel repetitive or unnecessary. It told a story, and while that story was indeed a means to an end to get to the final installment of the trilogy, it could still very well stand on its own.
‘How To Train Your Dragon 3’ 2019
‘How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ was a perfect conclusion to the franchise. Truly wrapping all the plotlines with a neat bow, served as a reminder that others don’t belong to you. Starting us off with a dragon rescue mission, the film sets up the main conflict – a gang of dragon trappers has hired a legendary dragon hunter, who is responsible for the virtual extinction of Night Furies, to capture Toothless. To accomplish this, the hunter releases a Light Fury that the trappers have captured. Toothless makes acquaintance with the Light Fury and develops a crush! Though when the dragon hunter’s plan to lure Toothless into a trap using the Light Fury doesn’t work out, he settles for burning down Berk. The people of Berk, led by Hiccup, set out to find the “hidden world” – supposedly located at the edge of the Earth. Stopping at an island for rest, the Vikings set up camp.
Hiccup travels to capture the dragon hunter but returns empty-handed. He also builds Toothless a tail that does not have to be manually operated by a rider. Toothless sets out to find the Light Fury and together the two retreat to the “hidden world”. Hiccup arrives at the hidden world to find Toothless but realizes that this is where the dragon truly belongs. Hiccup is discovered by the wild dragons and Toothless must save him. When they arrive back on the island, the dragon hunter captures Toothless and the Light Fury, consequently capturing all of the dragons on the island. A battle ensues and Hiccup takes back all of Berk’s dragons. Towards the end of the film, he releases Toothless to go live in the “hidden world” with the Light Fury and the rest of the dragons. Years pass and Hiccup returns to the “edge of the world” with his children, where he meets Toothless and his cubs.
This was an extremely clean conclusion to the trilogy which is rare since studios will typically attempt to exploit a successful franchise to their full ability. ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ concluded when it needed to. Leaving us with the lesson that others are not our property and have their own lives which we need to respect. Additionally, we were taught that real love is respect and faith. Surprisingly emotional, extremely well done, and simply beautiful.
Whether you grew up with ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ or got to experience it as a preteen, this franchise undoubtedly had an impact on all its viewers. This is not a forgettable trilogy, however, for whatever reason, it seems to have slipped through our fingers. These films are beyond deserving of steady attention, and I can only hope that future generations will get acquainted with them as they grow up.
By Micha Jones
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Micha Jones is a writer and aspiring television producer who is dedicated to education and equity. Writing review and feature articles for The Hollywood Insider, they focus on the ways in which media can tell marginalized stories. Through reflecting on the portrayal of social and environmental issues in TV and film, Micha aims to make positive changes in the entertainment industry. Micha’s work often carries The Hollywood Insider’s signature “mic-drop” perspectives and makes an effort to tell educational and socially progressive stories. They strongly believe in accurate representation in film and emphasize the power of the community.