E: I am here, my friends, to recommend to you the book and movie version of How To Train Your Dragon.
Those who read this space regularly might remember a little quibble the three of us siblings had some months about about remakes and reboots. Well, if you have seen the movie and are familiar with the books, you know that the movie bears only the slenderest resemblance to its source material. The screenwriters looked at the book and apparently thought “now there’s a cool idea – Vikings. Dragons. Funny names. Great.”
And then they pretty nearly tossed the book out the window.
Normally, that would tick me off.
It could be because we’ve only just begun to read Cressida Cowell’s book, and I knew when I started reading it that the movie would be vastly different. If I had known and loved the book for years, surely my reaction would have been different. And surely I am seduced by the new 3D technology that makes it all feel so lived in, so vivid.
Whatever it is, I think both the book and the movie are fantastic.
I saw How to Train your Dragon with my oldest children, who are newly five and almost seven, the day after we finished the book. My five year old liked the books better; the seven year old was more taken with the movie. They both love the film and the book, though.
Both stories center on the life of Hiccup, an unlikely Viking, son of Chief Stoick the Vast. Clever Hiccup must prove to himself – and his tribe – that deserves their respect (and has what it takes to be the next chief) even if he’s nothing like the Viking Ideal. With the help of a dragon named Toothless, and his ingenuity, Hiccup finds he can accomplish more than he ever thought possible.
After that, everything’s totally different.
In the movie, the Hooligan tribe is under constant attack by dragons, and the youth of the village – including Hiccup – are being trained by the odd, mostly kind blacksmith Gobber the Belch to fight them off. In the book, militaristic boob Gobber the Belch trains the youth to pass their test of manhood, which is to steal and train their first dragon. In the book universe, dragons are useful domesticated animals that hunt and fetch for their masters – if the master can yell them into submission. They’re also small, ranging from dog to lion sized. In the book, dragon-expert Hiccup’s best friend is spindly, timid, lamed Fishlegs; in the movie, Fishlegs is an enormous lovable lunk with an encyclopedic memory for dragon facts. Much of the book centers on Hiccup’s rivalry with his ambitious cousin Snotface Snotlout, son of Hiccup’s uncle Babbybum the Beerbelly. Bully Snotlout excels at burglary, swordfighting, bashy ball and advanced rudery; in short, he’s all the things Hiccup isn’t. Movie Snotlout is a minor annoyance. The narrative focuses instead on learning to kill dragons, and on Astrid, the girl who outfights all the Hooligan boys, and Hiccup’s feelings for her. The book includes pages of an instruction manual from which both versions take their name; let’s just say that the movie version is more helpful. The big bad, as it were, remains the same, and yet is completely different in both works, and the battle strategies bear little resemblance.
Though we could probably have a pretty lengthy discussion of the whole action heroine cliche, I will say that I liked Astrid. She’s voiced by the always terrific America Ferrera. The vocal talent is generally pretty impressive, although I’m not entirely clear why the adults (chiefly Gerard Butler as Stoick the Vast and Craig Ferguson as Gobber the Belch) growl with gravely Scottish burs and the kids don’t. Perhaps because they’re played by the likes of Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig? Jay Baruchel is less whiny as Hiccup than he is in live action. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but there it is.
The books boil with sly and often scatalogical humor, and are illustrated with crudely drawn, deliberately ugly figures. We’re reading the first of at least four sequels now, How To Be a Pirate, and I have to stop my seven year old from reading ahead without the rest of us. He’s especially taken by the insult fights the students have in Advanced Rudery class. The lush, gorgeous movie spends its moments on thrill more than puns and put downs. It’s more conventionally sentimental. (Actually, the books aren’t sentimental at all.) But both are delightful in the their different ways. And of course, both will scare your kids a little. A dramatic reading of the book actually scared mine more than the movie, or most of the movie, anyway. So before taking your kids, assess how much they like to to scared. For most kids, that’s a lot of fun.