How To Train Your Epic Hero In 95 Minutes

If you follow the Howard Tayler Twitter Feed you already know that I saw How to Train Your Dragon Friday morning, and that it's my new favorite film for 2010. Let's get the new rankings out of the way first:

1) How to Train Your Dragon

2) Alice in Wonderland

3) The Wolfman

4) Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

5) The Bounty Hunter

6) Repo Men

7) Cop Out

8) Book of Eli

9jillionty-five) Legion

Now, if you don't like movies spoiled for you, and if you know anything about the Campbellian Monomyth and how it compares to (or contains) the classically-defined Epic Hero, I probably said too much about this movie in the title of this post. Sorry!

I was expecting How to Train Your Dragon to be a nice coming-of-age movie for kids wrapped around a "this war is all just a big misunderstanding" plot, with a heavy dose of "it's not dangerous it's cute." And you know what? If you've watched the same trailers I did, you probably expect the same thing.

And you'd be right to. All that is in there. The trailers didn't lie to us.

What I was not expecting was a compression of the Campbellian Monomyth, the Heroic Cycle pattern established by Joseph Campbell in Hero With a Thousand Faces which allows us to deconstruct and define the great mythic epics like Gilgamesh, Beowulf, The Lord of The Rings, and Star Wars.  

But How to Train Your Dragon, a 95-minute animated feature, fits that cycle nicely. Sure, some elements are missing, and others are steeply abbreviated, but the most critical pieces are there, including a couple that many modern interpretations skip entirely. I wept with joy.  I experienced the delivery of key moments with a thrill that can be summed up in the phrase "OHHH! They kept [mythic element] in!"

I am such a nerd. Most folks will not have this reaction, and will instead thrill at moments like the one where Hiccup (our hero's name is, in fact, "Hiccup") takes flight. That part is much better done than it was when Jake Sully tamed a mount in Avatar, or when Harry Potter rode the griffin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Each of these films leads us to believe that there will be at least a little bit of a trial before our hero earns his wings. In How to Train Your Dragon, there is much more to it than "make friends and jump on."

But I'm saying too much. I loved the movie, and will cheerfully see it again if I can find the time. If I do, I'll be bringing my Campbellian Monomyth crib-sheet with me. I want to take notes.

Again: I am such a nerd.