I love How to Train Your Dragon, as you can tell from one of my most popular articles of all time: How to Train Your Dragon vs. Avatar. My kids love watching this movie, and so I’ve seen it more than a dozen times now. And after all those viewings I still discover new things to love about it. I would like to share 10 details that I think are really interesting but can be hard to spot in How to Train Your Dragon. I hope these will add to your appreciation of this wonderful film.
1. The Eye
When the camera pans across Toothless’ body for the first time when he’s tied up in front of Hiccup, for a split-second we see his eye closed, but then his wing passes in front of it, and when we see the eye again it’s open and staring at Hiccup. It’s a really cool moment that apparently was an accident in the animation process, but the filmmakers kept it because it was so creepy. This is an example of excellent visual storytelling. It gives us some insight into Toothless’ character without anyone having to say a word.
2. “I Did This”
Both Hiccup and his father Stoick say “I did this” when they find Toothless lying in a state of semi-consciousness. When they say those words, they also don’t yet realize that their actions have caused Toothless/Hiccup to be forever maimed. This little moment is easy to miss because both characters whisper the line softly. Turn on your subtitles if you have trouble hearing it.
3. Moving Images
When Hiccup first reads some of the pages in the “Dragon Handbook” on a dark, stormy night, the images are all static, as they should be. But a flash of lightning disrupts him halfway through, and when he warily returns to the morbid task of reading about dragons’ abilities to kill people, suddenly the images start moving. It’s so subtle that I didn’t notice it for the longest time. It adds an extra dimension to the scene, though, allowing us to not only see what Hiccup is seeing but experience the fear that is gripping him.
4. Candle Flicker
I have great respect for animators who are able to add realistic details that might go unnoticed but nevertheless immerse viewers in the world they have created. I’m sure that candles are incredibly hard to pull off because they’re such small things, but they are affected by even the smallest breeze. During the “Dragon Handbook” scene, Hiccup has two candles near him that react when he opens the book cover and when a door bursts open and lets in a gust of wind. However, they don’t react at one moment when Hiccup turns a page, with the same swiftness as he did the cover. The rest of the candlelight in that scene is brilliant, but watch for that moment when it doesn’t react as it should.
5. The Hippo Tribute
When Toothless takes Hiccup and Astrid to the Dragon Queen’s lair, we see a bunch of other dragons carrying food with them. One is holding a dead hippopotamus – the same one from the Madagascar films. That’s pretty funny. I wasn’t impressed at all by the first Madagascar, so I didn’t see the sequels. I thought this brief cameo in How to Train Your Dragon was a clever way for DreamWorks Animation to say that it’s finished making terrible films, and it’s going to focus on making high-quality ones. Alas, two years later they came out with another Madagascar movie, so I guess I was wrong. But for all I know the third one is great. Let’s hope.
6. Gobber the Swift
Gobber is an affable character who has a missing hand and leg. When Hiccup prepares to enter the Kill Ring to fight the Monstrous Nightmare, Gobber is at his side, and he says, “It’s time, Hiccup. Knock ‘em dead.” He then closes the gate behind Hiccup. About 10 seconds pass as Hiccup walks to the center of the ring and grabs a shield and knife off a weapon rack. Suddenly we cut to Stoick, who is in the stands on the opposite side of the ring from where Hiccup entered, and he turns to Gobber and says, “I would’ve gone with the hammer.” But wait, how did Gobber get across the ring and up into the stands behind Stoick in just a few seconds? He’s not exactly a sprinter with his peg leg and heavyset figure. I didn’t know the Vikings mastered both shipbuilding and teleportation.
7. “So Why Didn’t You?”
Hiccup and Toothless are the same character. Toothless is different than all the other dragons because he doesn’t steal food and he’s never seen. Hiccup is different than all the other Vikings because he is a light eater and he’s always told to get out of sight because he causes so much trouble everywhere he goes. Toothless refuses to kill Hiccup, even though any other dragon would have done so given the opportunity, and he suffers the loss of part of his tail. Hiccup refuses to kill Toothless, even though any other Viking would have done so given the opportunity, and he suffers the loss of his foot. After being told that dragons will always try to kill him, Hiccup asks Toothless, “So why didn’t you?” And later he is asked the same question about why he didn’t kill Toothless. Neither could because they’re not monsters.
8. The Disappearing Tail
When the Vikings’ boats land on Helheim’s Gate (the dragons’ island) Stoick takes a long look at the face of the mountain. For a moment we catch a glimpse of a red dragon tail before it scurries out of sight. It’s enough to convince Stoick that he’s come to the right place, but I failed to notice it until recently. Very nice touch.
9. Fire and Water Don’t Mix
Have you ever wondered why Toothless and Hiccup don’t immediately attack the Dragon Queen after they take to the air in the thrilling climax? It’s because the filmmakers were extremely careful to follow the rules they set up earlier in the film. During dragon training, Gobber noted, “A wet dragon head can’t light its fire.” And Toothless had just spent a minute underwater, so he has to fly around for a bit to dry off before he can be of any use as a fire-breather. I love this dedication to continuity.
10. Hiccup the Dragonslayer
Throughout the film, Hiccup vehemently declares he can’t kill dragons while Stoick and other Vikings boast about all the dragons they’ve killed and plan to kill. Ironically, Hiccup is the only Viking we actually see kill a dragon in the whole movie. Stoick punches some dragons and throws things at them, but he never kills one. It’s his pacifist son who is responsible for ending the Queen Dragon’s reign of terror. I don’t know if the filmmakers intended that to be so ironic, but I find it intriguing that a character has to violate his conscience to save his people. Dramatic stuff.
Let me know if you have noticed any other cool details in How to Train Your Dragon that I didn’t include in this list. I’m sure there are even more things that make this a truly great movie that warrants close inspection.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All images from How to Train Your Dragon are the copyright of DreamWorks Animation.