December 16, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

So I read How to Train Your Dragon out loud to my bright-eyed little daughter a month or two back and never got around to blogging about it.  Then we rented the movie and now we've just finished the second book in the series.

Hooo-ee, it's a bunch of fun.  If nobody else, middle-reading boys (4th-7th) will love this stuff.  Plenty of references to belches, farts, swords, dragons, and horrible ways of expiring.  The illustrations are all ink-spilled hilarious scribbles similar to the ones in their own loose-leaf notebooks.  And it's about Vikings and dragons and pirates for crying out loud.  How can you go wrong?

The books are about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, son and heir to the chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe, Stoick the Vast.  Problem is, Hiccup is a scrawny, brainy boy and not the muscle-bound Viking hero his father or tribe trainer, Gobber the Belch, would like to see.  Needless to say he proves that sometimes brains can win out over brawn and maybe even save the village from impending doom in the form of giant attacking fire-breathing dragons.

That's the basic plot anyway and the movie sticks with about just that much.  Everything else, however is completely different.  What's weird is that they are both (first book and film) perfectly delightful in their own way.   Usually when they take the title of a children's book and maybe the basic idea, but change everything else, it ends up to be a pile of mushy nothingness (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs; The Polar Express), but this movie is really pretty great even though the father is much more of a character, the dragons are completely different, the main adversary is absent, and a romantic subplot with a girl Viking is tossed in.  Don't ask me how, but they nailed it.

I have no idea if they're planning to adapt the second one, but they'll have to change everything again.  In the second book, it turns out Hiccup has a legendary sea-faring ancestor named Grimbeard the Ghastly who has buried and booby-trapped some sort of pirate treasure.  Stoick the Vast becomes obsessed with finding it with the help of an untrustworthy new arrival to the island claiming to be named Alvin the Poor-but-Honest Farmer.

Again, it's a delight and again it would make a great film but it would be very different because in both the books and film Hiccup has a dragon companion named Toothless, but they are very different creatures.  In the books Toothless is a self-involved reluctant helper who is pathetically small and actually has nubby little teeth.  In the climax of the second book when a bad guy is approaching Hiccup with blade drawn, he commands Toothless to bring him a sword from a pile.  Toothless is similarly scrawny and can only managed the smallest, rustiest weapon.

In the movie, "Toothless" is a joke name because the full-sized black dragon has retractable teeth so it looks like he has none until he springs them when coming in for a bite.  He would have no trouble flying a cannon over to Hiccup if he wished.  But I'm sure the filmmakers could pull it off with no problem after their triumphant first adaptation.

How to Train Your Dragon Book 1
How to Train Your Dragon (Single Disc Edition)
How to Train Your Dragon Book 2: How to Be a Pirate