Depictions of Disability That Make Us Happy

Movie poster from Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon: a night-blue sky with a full moon, and a midnight black dragon with large, pale eyes stares down at a pale, brown haired boy who reaches up to try to touch its face. The poster text reads: Dreamworks [next line] How to Train Your [next line] Dragon [next line] 3D.We took The Kid to the base theatre on Wednesday night to see Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon, which is loosely adapted from a YA Book series of the same name.

[Tame OYD Review with mild SPOILERS ahead]

It is a story of a teen boy, Hiccup, who lives in the Viking village of Berk, which is on an island. His village of one of fierce dragon slayers, and Hiccup is the only son of the chief, Stoick the Vast. Except, he isn’t really very good at slaying dragons, because he is kind of clumsy (I can relate). Longing to be accepted, despite his awkwardness, among his tribe and the other viking teens, and naturally wanting to win the heart of the beautiful girl, Hiccup wants to be a great dragon slayer, too, until he actually catches one of the fiercest and little-known about breeds of dragon, the dreaded Night Fury.

Just when Hiccup has the chance to Slay the Dragon, he realizes that he doesn’t have the heart to kill the creature that looks up at him and surrenders its will in such a helpless manner. He lets the dragon go, and in turn, the dragon doesn’t kill him, which goes against everything he has ever been taught. Slowly over time he earns the dragon’s trust, and learns that that the reason the dragon hasn’t left is because part of his tail has been lost when Hiccup captured him.

Using his knowledge of the forge, Hiccup fashions a sort of prosthetic half-tail for the dragon, and together he and the dragon learn how to fly together, because the dragon now needs assistance using the new tail piece.

There are many themes in the movie that I am not going to excuse. If you think by now that you are going to see a Dreamworks movie that has a fair representation of girl characters, you are wrong, as they even manage to throw in some boob jokes, and once again, the main character has lost his mother in another ridiculous excuse to not have to write one in or to draw out some sympathy for him. Mothers in pop-culture and YA literature/movies are never to be known and always to be mourned. If you think there is anyone who is non-white in this movie, think again. And if anyone tries to excuse it by telling me that “This is a Viking village!”, I can tell you that there were probably more non-white people around Villages than actual dragons, so they could have maybe thrown a bone in there, especially since they had America Ferrara voicing the female lead, because I think that might have been a nice nod to her character. (But at least she wasn’t a wilting lily of a wee girl.)

But I can tell you that I don’t have to love every aspect of things that affect my marginalization to be impressed when something actually goes right once in a while.

At the end of the Epic Battle (no I won’t spoil that), Hiccup loses his foot, and is fitted with a prosthetic one made in the forge, and other than two brief mentions of it, and a heart warming moment when his dragon helps him start to adapt to learning to use it, that was pretty much all the attention given to it. Hiccup, being a mechanical tinkerer, says he might play around with it and improve upon it, but, no one makes a Big Deal. While this might not be realistic and probably dismisses the reality of dealing with that type of loss (and in the mythical world they created this is a common thing they deal with), I liked that this loss of Hiccup’s foot was not treated as The Worst! Thing! Evah! Hiccup actually just goes out, and climbs aboard his dragon. Life as usual. In fact, his fancy new foot fits better into his riding harness, the one he made for the prosthetic tail for his dragon.

I like it when we can see people with disabilities in a positive light. Moreover, I like it more when the characters in pop-culture around this character aren’t reacting in a way that makes it seem as if this is the worst tragedy to ever hit their lives. They are Vikings, and in the long view of things, they have managed to avert a major crisis and now have dragons for pets, which is pretty cool. Stoick is thrilled to have his son, the person, with him, and the depiction of the girl is still…well, painfully stereotypical.

But this depiction of disability, it made me very happy.

4 Comments

  1. I saw the movie a few months ago, and I really liked the treatment of disability in it as well. (Plus, dragons!) But I was also disappointed by the fact that it was only a bunch of white men, and the love interest (though at least she’s pretty badass). So, I agree with everything you wrote. Not very productive comment, I guess.

  2. I also liked that the blacksmith/teacher for the teenagers had multiple disabilities of his own, yet was one of the most powerful men in the village.

    It being Dreamworks, I was excited that a whole two of the supporting characters were girls. That’s, like, two more than usual. Bleh.

  3. Don’t forget Toothless’ disability is the whole point of the movie, and he’s an epic badass and the most powerful dragon depicted (on the good side).

  4. So I am the latest and just watched this movie last night, and found myself wondering if anybody had written about assistive tech in HTTYD. Lots of Google results for Dragon Naturally Speaking later, I am completely unsurprised to find that FWD got to it ages ago. Clearly this should have been my first stop.

    I love that Hiccup’s new foot isn’t the Worst! Thing! Ever! to happen to him. And I liked that the older Viking who trained the kids had both a hand and a foot prosthetic, and while they’re used for jokes (the beer-stein hand prosthetic) the fact that he has them isn’t terrible or weird or scary. The hook-hand was pretty rad at several points.

    It’s not a perfect movie, but it doesn’t mess this thing up, and that’s fantastic.