How to Train Your Dragon is a good animated movie but saying that seems like a backhanded compliment. Because it is hard not to say: “That was good… for an animated movie!” The problem, I think, is that most mainstream animated movies are so similar in their structure and their characters. Of course there are great animated movies, like really good movies, but there are hardly any of them coming out of Hollywood, I think. And I’m still on the fence with Pixar, personally, but that’s another story. Anyway, this one is good, it’s funny and entertaining and exciting. I saw Wreck-It-Ralph not so long ago and liked it, too, but when I looked at both of them I thought, wow, they’re really always the same thing: underdog becomes hero or some variant of it. And sure, you could say that about any genre probably, but there’s so much work and thought put into animation that it baffles me that there is not more variety, but always the same mix of kids-friendly adventure and adult-friendly humor. Anyway, How to Train Your Dragon is certainly one of the better examples of those movies.
Female characters are almost invisible in this movie. There are two and only one you would even remember. This is Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera, and being the only notable female character in this movie automatically makes her the love interest for the hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). Fine, this falls also under the rule of Hollywood movies having to have a love story and since a homosexual romance is probably not an option for a studio, Astrid falls under this spell. It’s not pretty, but whatever. If she were a complex character, this would be another thing, but the filmmakers decided to have a Strong Female Character, which unfortunately translates to “Female With Stereotypical Male Attributes.” Meaning she is tougher than everyone else, can fight better and shows no emotions except anger. Later she changes a little and is basically softened by Hiccup. So at least she has some character development. It’s not a complete mess but I’m always disappointed by those tough women because they basically say, “Women can be equal, they just have to act like men.” To be fair, the movie plays with male stereotypes as Hiccup is unmanly and pacifist, but in the end he still is the hero because he is a good strategist and knows how to train his dragon (meaning he knows how to assert authority over something, but, well, there you go if you deal with a movie that is basically about domestication).
Ideologically, it’s not a perfect movie, but on the other hand it tries some things at least, so maybe we shouldn’t fault it too much, especially when it is mainstream. But again, women don’t have to decide between weak and tough, there are many options in between.