Sunday, April 11, 2010

How To Tame Your Dragon And The Hollywood Outline

With Barbara in Pennsylvania, visiting her mother, I spent Friday night with Sam and Marissa. After pasta salad and beer, we went to a suburban mulitplex to see the film, How to Tame Your Dragon, a CGI animation about Vikings feuding with dragons on some foggy rock in the North Sea.

The typical Hollywood script has a hero with an explicit desire and a real need. The story appears to give the hero his or her wish. The hero becomes smug or complacent, loses the object of desire, shapes up and does the right thing. Doing the right thing puts the hero in position to have the deeper need satisfied.

Dragon's identity figure is a skinny, dreamy blacksmith's apprentice named Hiccup, surrounded by beefy blusterers, the beefiest of whom is Hiccup's  father, chief dragon fighter, Stoick. Hiccup invents a gadget to kill dragons, but winds up secretly befriending the dragon he injures, and building it a prosthetic tail fin. Everything works out in the end, and the dragons turn out to have pretty kittenish personalities, but Hiccup's character is consistent throughout. He has successes and failures, and his spirits rise and fall, but his dragon learning curve is quick, and his circumstances are either changed for him, or improve because of virtue that was there from the first scene.

The ensemble, Viking village, does go through the Hollywood outline, though. At first, they just want to get rid of the marauding dragons. Things improve from the audience's perspective, because Hiccup rides his tamed dragon, has a romance, and demonstrates stellar dragon handling skills in Viking boot camp. The monkey wrench comes when Stoick drags his dragon-raiding party back in smoldering tatters, finds out Hiccup is his class' star dragon handler, expects to see -- and is disappointed -- him slay a dragon in a right of passage. Stoick disowns Hiccup, and sails off again to kill the dragons in their nest. Hiccup saves the day, and Stoick apologizes (does the right thing). Instead of ridding themselves of the dragons, the Vikings get a deeper payoff in befriending and riding them. The second-person possessive in the title is significant. We do watch Hiccup tame a dragon, but more importantly, we see the Vikings tame their -- metaphorical -- dragon.

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