Life Through the Lens: Animation with depth and breadth

“Perhaps you rely too much on your dragons and not enough on one another.”


“I know you can do it” are some of the scariest words in the English language. It implies so much. It implies that, although the task remains unfinished, there is utter-belief that it CAN be done. It implies conviction. It speaks of faith. My brain connects to the cynical side of that statement; if it isn’t done, maybe that is because it can’t be done. If I can do it, then why haven’t I done it already. YOU may know I can do it, but I’m not so sure.

Having someone express their trust in me is empowering, but it is also potentially humiliating or could prove down-right-incorrect.

I’ve heard this phrase shouted in my general direction many times throughout my life. I’ve heard it bellowed as I came around the home stretch in the 800-meter dash — my legs destroyed, my lungs gasping, and my soul packing its belongings for another host-body. I’ve heard this phrase whispered as I struggled through the relentless homework for AP Calculus — my brain weeping, my eyes rejecting, and my soul packing its belongings for another (less academically gullible) host-body. I’ve heard this phrase echo as I entered school for my first day as a teacher — my nerves overwhelming, my heart pounding, and my soul getting out before the first-day-carnage begins.

One of the strongest occurrences that comes to mind with this phrase happened four years ago. A subtle hint had been floated to me by a friend who was the President of an organization called Youth Advance. Its stated-objective is to train and encourage young people as godly leaders. My friend wondered if I’d ever be interested in speaking at the three-day seminar. I dismissed this question as preposterous. He must have recently been the recipient of some head-trauma.

Then he asked again. And again. The question persisted, followed by the phrase “I know you can do it.” That dang phrase. His belief in me would not allow this idea to fade. His steadfast-certainty began to calm my skepticism. He must have seen something in me that I could not see in myself.

The reality was daunting: seven sessions, an hour and a half each, for three years! Because my friend believed in me, my disbelief in myself took a backseat. Out of someone else’s faith in me, I took the leap! Thirty-one speaking-hours later, and I am still alive.

It wasn’t about the amount of faith I had in myself; someone expressing faith IN ME was just as powerful!


The How to Train Your Dragon series left off with Hiccup in charge and Toothless the king of all dragons. This adventure begins with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and the gang liberating as many dragons as possible. It becomes their sole-purpose: to free all dragons. And, once free, they tend to all move to Hiccup’s kingdom of Berk. Needless to say, Berk is becoming overrun.

The success of “the dragon riders” has put fear into the dragon trappers. They cannot seem to compete any longer; they have no choice but to turn to history’s greatest dragon slayer, Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham). He even gives the other bad guys the creeps. With the promise of destroying the last remaining Night Fury, Grimmel devises a plan that involves baiting Toothless using the final female of the species. Toothless, and Hiccup, will never see it coming.

Berk is now too dangerous to stay there any longer. Hiccup is being pressured about his reign and imminent marriage to Astrid (America Ferrera). Toothless is being called away from his safe home and human relationships. All the while, the legend of “The Hidden World of Dragons” becomes a siren- ong for all of their problems. Could it be a real refuge? What if it is nothing but a long-fretted-over mirage?

One recurring theme of the movie is the power found in the faith of a friend. Everyone looked to Hiccup as their leader, but he was sinking in the weight. Excuses rise quickly while expectations burden heavily. It was only when Astrid’s voice expressed enduring confidence in Hiccup that he began to see it. The fact that someone close to him “knew he could do it” changed his entire demeanor and direction. What she KNEW to be fact began to change what he FEARED to be true.

I have been a huge fan of this series from the very beginning. Each movie has heart beyond their MPAA rating and visuals to rival any blockbuster. The characters are rich in story and development; and the arc is beautiful and fulfilling. Although fantastic and imaginative, each movie taps into something very human.

My favorite part of each movie is the animation, and I use that term very broadly. Unlike most, these films don’t get caught in the realism or lost in the fictional; they manage an effortless blend of both. They are colorful and sweet but also meticulous and thorough. The landscapes are sweeping, the worlds are lived-in, and the movements are purposeful. They are some of the most beautifully-shot movies around!

Director Dean DeBlois has completed his trilogy with grace and vision. This movie has depth and breadth, no easy task for an animated movie about dragons! We feel authentic empathy for the characters, and we see an entire world created believably and strikingly. For me, DeBlois has changed the game of animation and upped the ante.

On a bitter-sweet endnote: I admire the resolution of the team behind HTTYD. Instead of riding this dragon until it dies and then continuing to kick it with unnecessary sequels, they have told the story and are now done. There will be no fourth part. Why? Because the story is over! Period. Forget the money and merchandise — this is a tale of artistic integrity.



How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Grade: A+

Comment: Wonderfully imagined and gorgeously delivered