Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Picture Vol. 34: I Saw Myself

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Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with one of the best films of the 2010s; How to Train Your Dragon.

In late 2009/early 2010 a trailer was released for Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon. Being a fan of animated fare and an even bigger fan of dragons in general, I was on board immediately. Especially since it meant I could take my favorite moviegoers along with me, my nieces, and my nephews. Then, at some point before its release, Kaylee, one of the oldest nieces (9 at the time I believe…maybe 10) tells me she’s dying to see it as well. Except there’s a caveat; she wants it to just be me and her. And we have to go see it in 3D.

So, the date was made, the anticipation building with each subsequent trailer or TV spot we see, and sometime during the third weekend of March 2010 we piled into one of the local cinemas, donned our awkward 3D glasses, and strapped in for the ride. Well, what we thought would just be a ride anyway. We were not prepared. At all.

I don’t know when Kaylee came to the conclusion that she shared with me during our first viewing, but I do greatly remember the moment she leaned over and whispered something I’ll never forget as long as I live. It’s the moment when Hiccup gets his first unbelievable ride, courtesy of his new dragon friend Toothless. As the duo soars through the skies surrounding Berk, Kaylee leans over and says “Uncle Logan, I think this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen.” The only thing I could say in response was “Me too, Kaylee.”

In the weeks that followed there were multiple trips made to revisit Hiccup, Toothless, and the world of Berk. The first one involved the entirety of my nieces and nephews and baby bro Avi, seven of us at that point I believe (now it’s more than double that), once again in 3D. What I say next isn’t to boast or to lament the money spent, but that trip to the movies probably cost me around $130 all told, with drinks, popcorn, candy, and tickets. It was worth every single scent. While none of the others took to the world of Dragons the way Kaylee and I did, they all seemed to enjoy it immensely. By the end of its theatrical run, I think I’d seen How to Train Your Dragon five times, and each time was as thrilling as the last, but none more memorable than the first.

Kaylee and I would talk often of the movie, and I think I told that story of seeing it with her to anyone who would listen. When the DVD was released there was a bonus short, and then there was a holiday special that year as well. All of it consumed and discussed and consumed again. I would update her any time there was even a hint of a possible sequel, and when the TV series was announced we both were just overjoyed. I even purchased the first season for her on DVD when it was released, the two of us just biding our time for the sequel, enjoying whatever we could of the characters and world while we waited.

Kaylee and I at one Thanksgiving or another.

It’s been quite a while since I sat down and watched any of the Dreamworks’ Dragons saga, but a few weeks ago Kaylee sent me a text that was nothing more than a picture of a chalkboard at one of our local coffee houses. On it were a list of dates for their weekly trivia contest, and next to one of the was HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. To say we were stoked would be putting it mildly, both of us promising to watch all three films as much as possible in the coming weeks to prepare. I’ll make that long story short and tell you we disappointingly came in last place. Dead last. Because we risked all our points on a question we still think had no business being in there, to begin with, but, c’est la vie. Most importantly it afforded us the chance to relive some cinematic memories, to spend some time together, and to geek out about a franchise we both adore.

Rewatching the films though, especially the first one, proved to be almost as valuable for me. I actually managed to watch it three times in the lead-up to our failure, and while everything I love about the movie was still there, still prevalent, still thrilling, and still as emotionally charged as it ever was, I found so much more this time around. It turned out to be the perfect chaser to watching The Breakfast Club a few weeks ago because much like that film, How to Train Your Dragon is very much a story of generational trauma.

Kaylee being the wild and crazy kid…she graduates from college in a few short months. Unbelievable.

Much like the protagonists of that film, Hiccup is desperate and determined to prove to his father that he is valuable, both as a son and a member of their society. Unlike them, however, he seems to not only accept the rules of the society he lives in, he longs to follow them, to carry them out. So much so that the entirety of the opening sequence is dedicated to him killing a dragon. It’s only after he comes face to face with the thing he so desperately wants to kill does he begin to understand that his worldview is as limited as the people whose footsteps he wants to walk in.

He’s a kid who’s been raised and indoctrinated in prejudices and misconceptions. He believes what his father believes because he loves and trusts his father. But Hiccup is not just the product of his upbringing, but also the upbringing of everyone around him, most especially his father. And so on and so forth, probably stretching back farther than any of the people in this village can fathom.

Kaylee being too cool to look at the camera.

Yes, dragons are big and scary and dangerous. When big, scary, dangerous-looking creatures show up at your doorstep, your first instinct may just be to attack them before they attack you. Violence and bigotry beget more violence and bigotry, and until someone successfully breaks the cycle that’s all there will ever be. I’ve watched Kaylee be that person. In more instances than anyone probably should ever have to. While her story is not mine to tell, I’ve happily called her both my Hiccup and my hero, and in the thirteen years since we sat down in a theatre and became entranced with the world of Berk, she’s only become more so.

When I talked about The Breakfast Club I specifically spoke about the scene where Allison says that as you get older “Your heart just dies.” I’m several weeks away from having revisited that, and the statement still haunts me. Revisiting How to Train Your Dragon has added an addendum to her words, for me at least. Yes, as you get older your heart surely dies. If you let it.

My last day of cancer treatment, almost 7 years ago. Kaylee drove myself and niece Kayla to Atlanta so I didn’t have to go alone.

Caring is hard. Empathy is hard. Standing up for others is hard. Standing up TO others is hard. Confronting your fears is hard. Finding a peaceful solution is hard. Letting go of the pain is hard. Love is hard. Maybe the hardest thing. That’s usually how you can tell it’s the right thing. If hate were truly hard, no one would do it.

Towards the end of the movie, Astrid confronts Hiccup about his choice not to kill Toothless when he downed him in the forest. The creature was wounded, defenseless, and ending its life would have brought this kid everything he’d been dreaming about. He would finally be someone his dad could be proud of. Now he was watching that same father, one who’d just disowned him, head to see to kill a bunch of creatures he didn’t understand, including his newfound best friend. She pushes and pushes, asking why again and again. Finally, Hiccup relents and says, “I looked at him and I saw myself.”

If only we all strived to do the same.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks.

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