Don't ask me what my favorite film is. It's like asking a parent which child is the favorite.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Super Hiccup

A Review of How to Train Your Dragon 2

By Daniel Carstens

There's a scene in How to Train Your Dragon 2 where Hiccup, Astrid, and their dragons, in their exploration of new lands, discover a ship, shattered and penetrated by giant ice crystals. In an undoubtedly conscious design decision, these giant ice crystals are strikingly reminiscent of those that comprise Superman's fortress of solitude. At this moment, having destroyed the ship, they particularly resemble the destructive employment of the crystals by Lex Luthor in Superman Returns. If the resemblance was questionable at first, minutes later Hiccup discovers a sort of fortress of solitude for dragons, surrounded by the ice crystals. Visually, besides referencing Superman, this is one of many truly beautiful moments in the film. Dragons of many colors swirl around the hidden paradise. Like the first Dragon, the strongest aspect of the film is the animation. Even in 2D, the film is gorgeous.

Also inhabiting the fortress of dragon solitude is Hiccup's long lost mother (voiced with an aura of haunting mystery by Cate Blanchett). She invites Hiccup to join her and live in the fortress to protect the dragons he adores. Ultimately, Hiccup cannot stay isolated. His duties remain with his people as well as the dragons who with they have become intertwined. Like Superman, he cannot stay in the fortress of solitude, but must save the people who need help. In Dragon 2, Hiccup even flies solo, Superman-style. In the end, of course, Hiccup defeats the villain and saves his people.

In the first Dragon, Hiccup succeeds in changing the mind of his hard-headed Viking father and the entire dragon-fighting culture of his town. At the age of fifteen, Hiccup was supposed to kill a dragon as part of his entrance into adulthood. Instead, he shows his father and the town that dragons are inherently peaceful creatures. Even Superman needs help, however. In Superman Returns, Lois Lane saves Superman's life. Likewise, Hiccup needs his friends to help change the anti-dragon culture in the town. In Dragon 2, Hiccup and friends are twenty years old. The new generation is preparing to take over leadership and defense of the town. They must save their people and dragon companions from the forces of evil that seek to destroy them.

Both Dragon films center on this group of youth who enact great social change in their town. It is a strong message for today's young people. During the Civil Rights Movement, many high school youth took to the streets in nonviolent protest. Some were beaten and many were arrested. These images shocked the nation and contributed to the advances toward equality. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key organization in the movement, one whose members were near the age of Hiccup and friends in Dragon 2.

Dragon 2's message of the power and influence of young people, that was once present in the United States through Vietnam, has been lost in recent decades. Perhaps the Reagan-era return to 50's values helped diffuse the fighting spirit of American youth. In 2014, this spirit is needed perhaps more than any time since Vietnam. Utter political polarization has rendered Congress virtually useless on most issues. Civil Rights problems still exist, particularly in education and economics. The income gap between wealthy and poor is exponentially increasing, to the detriment of the backbone of the economy, the shrinking middle class. Social Security is being depleted, and the changing climate threatens the future stability of our planet. These are all issues that will affect young people the most, yet the aged who hold political office largely ignore these problems, leaving them for the next generation, when much damage will have already been done.

The How to Train Your Dragon films convey an incredibly important message to today's youth: Young people have power. They have voices, and if these voices are united, they can spark change. They can influence parents as well as politicians if they so choose to make themselves heard. Young people will take over official power in due time, but, as Hiccup learned, even now they can be influential and cause change in a troubled society. Hiccup may resemble Superman in several ways, but one key difference stands out, which he shares with real young people everywhere: He has no super powers. He uses his own ingenuity and passion to save his people and create a better society for future generations.

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