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“How to Train Your Daughter” from DreamWorks

Posted by Woodhull at 5th April, 2010

Written by Woodhull Co-Founder and Woodhull Faculty, Margot Magowan, as posted i on April 5, 2010 in http://margotmagowan.wordpress.com/

“How to Train Your Dragon” is a great movie; I was riveted from start to finish. The story is compelling and the animation is wonderful. A misfit boy, Hiccup, refuses to kill the dragons who relentlessly attack his Viking village, even as everyone around him, who he loves and respects, viciously slaughters them. Hiccup, instead, befriends and trains the creatures, ultimately bringing peace to his people.

But why couldn’t Hiccup have been a girl? Why couldn’t the dragon in the title have been female?

This movie, like most modern day animation blockbusters, does throw girls a few bones. There are two main characters that are girls; Astrid and Ruffnut are both good fighters, but they are clearly in supporting roles. Their job in the movie, as for most girls in most movies, is to help propel the guy, in this case, Hiccup, to greatness. Astrid and Ruffnut preform their archetypal tasks as helpmeets very well. Rah rah.

There are a few minor, minor roles for adult female Vikings, drawn as fat rather than strong, shown mostly in crowd scenes, never getting more than one line at a time. Hiccup’s father is a main character; he’s the leader of the tribe. His mother– surprise, surprise– is dead, so unusual for the mom to be killed off in a kids’ movie. She’s mentioned just once, when Hiccup’s dad hands his son a helmet which he tells his son used to be half of his mother’s breast plate. Ha ha.

The repetitive gender dynamic of boy-leader/ girl-follower is troubling because, like it or not, Hollywood provides our kids with some of their earliest leadership training. The star of the movie is the leader of the movie. Hiccup demonstrates all the skills of a truly visionary and effective leader: he’s smart, compassionate, creative, listens to his own truth, advocates for causes he believes in, builds constituencies, and trains his team. The girls’ critical choice in the movie is whether or not to follow him.

What gets me about “How to Train your Dragon” is here was a prefect opportunity to put a girl in the star role, even without messing too much with Hollywood’s beloved gender stereotypes.

Usually, when I complain about the lack of girl characters, people respond with something like “But in real life, lionesses never lead a pride” (Lion King) or “There aren’t really female chefs in top tier French kitchens” (Ratatouille)– temporarily forgetting while this may be true, it’s also true that rats can’t cook or even speak, and that lions don’t pal around with warthogs and meerkats or sing songs either. Why can’t DreamWorks create a magical world where girl and boys are equally important?

In “How to Train Your Dragon” Hiccup was already stretching the bounds of accepted masculinity by being so skinny and sweet compared with the muscley, hairy, slow-thinking, Popeye-on-steroids Vikings. Hiccup redefined bravery by refusing to kill. Why not go just a little further and make the character a girl? Apparently, DreamWorks is still too afraid, or too unimaginative, to come out with a movie starring a female, so I guess a skinny, weak boy is the next best thing.

How is Astrid finally convinced to put her trust in Hiccup instead of in his father, the tribe’s real leader? Hiccup takes her for a ride on his trained dragon, Toothless. As she dares to climb behind him on the saddle, grinning and clinging to his back, she reminded me of watching “Superman” as a kid, seeing Lois Lane dazzled by handsome Christopher Reeve as he flew her through the starry night or myself, cruising down a freeway in Austin, on the back of my boyfriend’s motorcycle, in awe at the sunset in the giant Texas sky. Yeah, it’s seductive and all, but why can’t Hollywood give girls the chance to be the hotties in the driver’s seat?

There’s one more female in this movie, blink and you’ll miss they call her a she. Spoiler alert: it turns out all the dragons are stealing food to feed a secret, hidden, giant, boss dragon, “like worker bees to a queen,” Hiccup discovers. I’m going to look at this paradoxically minor/ major female role as subversively feminist, and awarding the movie an extra G for it, though I don’t know how many people who see the movie will get that part is a female one.

“How to Train Your Dragon” gets a GG/S rating: some girlpower, some stereotyping.

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Category : Culture / Living / Media

3 Responses to ““How to Train Your Daughter” from DreamWorks”

  1. BadWitch says:

    …and this is how the ether works…! I had this EXACT thought (How to Train Your Daughter) a couple months ago. This is one of those, I think it here, and it comes out…at Woodhill Institute. Right on.


  2. Baird says:

    Great idea! The story was great, but there was a real opportunity here to add another dimension to the film. I’m not sure that we have definitely established the gender of toothless, but they do refer to him as he. It would have been tricky with that role, but I that is what would have made it great, not that it isn’t an amazing movie already. I love that the word of mouth is turning this into a real success. My wife and daughter and I went to see it again last night, only this time in 3D. It’s a great story, great characters and a thrill ride all in one.

  3. Amberguesa says:

    Though, to be honest, I think putting a girl in the position hiccup was in in regards to how society didn’t value him is even MORE problematic.

    I think the young adult book that featured a female character that was a bit more in hiccup’s situation would be Ann McCaffrey’s ‘Dragonsong’ book, and that while not perfect, it’d serve the narrative that putting a female in the role of Hiccup would create better (ie. young woman striding to be valued for her talents, while her family doesn’t listen, only to run off with little dragons and find that her talents do have value and that her family does love her.)

    The story wouldn’t be the same if the strong and valued by her community Astrid were the one who befriended the dragon, and turning her into Hiccup would have robbed the movie of a great, strong female character (Though part of this may reflect how I don’t trust hollywood to do a good job depicting both a strong Astrid and a weak girl-Hiccup at odds with each other – though that would probably be the best solution!)

    Though I haven’t read the series, I will mention that I’d heard tell that Astrid was NOT a character in the original book, which is kinda sad to consider when so much praise is given to the story for being based on a book written by a woman.

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