I love children’s films and am an absolute sucker for certain ones. The How To Train Your Dragon franchise is one of my favourites and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the first film back in 2010. There are SO many different things I love about the films and other than the incredible cuteness of the Night Fury, Light Fury and Night Lights (this list could go on and on as I love dragons), I really like the way that disabilities have been included and are viewed as normal.
The films have three disabled (amputee) characters, Toothless and Hiccup who are the two lead characters and Gobber who plays an important role throughout all of the stories. The approach that DreamWorks Animation (the film creators) have taken towards disability is incredibly refreshing. In the original books by Cressida Cowell Hiccup’s character does not lose his leg. DreamWorks showed a focus group a short film that included Hiccup losing his leg and because it was so popular and highly praised they kept it in the film. I find great comfort from the inclusion of disabled lead characters (that aren’t just baddies) and the approach that has been taken towards them.
The three films are:
Disability is introduced into the storyline very quickly in the first film and is a relevant and central part through the other two films. The first film focuses on Toothless being unable to fly without his rider, Hiccup, because of an accident that damaged part of his tail. Ahtough Hiccup caused the damage to Toothless’ tail he spends the rest of the film helping him and creating a one of a kind bond. It isn’t until the end of the film that Hiccup has an accident and the tables turn with him learning how to function with his disability.
I think a lot of disabled people can relate to having had a ‘normal’ life at some stage before something changed that left them with a long term disability, I certainly can. One thing I hugely struggled with, and still do, is having experienced living an able-bodied life. I had to grieve the loss of my old life before I was able to move on and accept that my life wouldn’t be what it was because I was restricted due to my body’s abilities. I still miss so many things, even the simplest that I was capable of but that isn’t my life and hasn’t been for a long time. I’ve come to terms with a lot of it but even now I get frustrated when something else crops up that’s wrong with me or I’m not able to do something without help. Living with a disability is a continuous learning experience and learning to rely on others is part of it too. The best way to get through it, in my opinion, is to think positively and to do the best we can, very much like the characters in the film.
The second film focuses more on how Toothless and Hiccup learn to live their lives with their disabilities with their mobility aids being upgraded and modernised. There isn’t a huge amount of focus on their disabilities but during a scene when Hiccup is talking to his mother it comes up in more detail. Hiccup’s mother explains how certain dragons ended up with their disabilities due to dragon cruelty and comments on Toothless’s tail. Hiccup jokingly says that he has a peg leg as Toothless got him back for damaging his tail. Keeping both of the characters in high spirits is incredibly positive because there is some notion that disabled people should be depressed and stay at home all of the time. I’ve personally had this sort of thing mentioned to me on many occasions with people asking me how I stay so positive. The simple answer is that you have to otherwise you don’t get anywhere in life. Sure there are good days, bad days and really bad days, but without doing my utmost best to stay positive I will end up in a dark place and that’s not how I want to live my life.
The third film takes a slightly different view of the main characters’ disabilities. There is a comment made by a particular character towards Hiccup’s disability. Tuffnut says “I’ve been watching you walk, loose the limp, no one’s going to marry that” to which Hiccup replies “I have a prosthetic leg”. I’m very split between the inclusion of the comment as part of me feels as though there was no need for it to be included. At the same time, I feel as though it is an accurate portrayal of how some people think disabilities work, i.e. stop limping and walk properly, despite it not being physically possible.
Toothless gets a new tail prosthetic which allows him to fly without Hiccup. I hugely like the idea of giving the character more independence as it is such an important part of living with a disability. Enabling an individual to have as much control over their life as possible, even if it isn’t as much as they would like is really important for morale. At the same time, I feel that camouflaging the disability to the point it isn’t visible gives the impression that it doesn’t exist when in reality, it just isn’t possible. Making any disability ‘normal’ in every way is incredibly important and as much as I am drawn between some of the things in the third film I still love the positive impact that it has on real life.
The key thing about the characters’ with disabilities, throughout all of the films, is that they aren’t viewed any differently. They are accepted for who they are without any judgement, sadly unlike the real world. In real life, disability can still be viewed negatively. You very often have to fight to prove there is something wrong with you especially if your disability isn’t easily visible otherwise you are at risk from being judged by others. If you park in a disabled car parking space, with a disabled badge, people judge and sometimes even comment, even some disabled people do this to other disabled people. You have to fight for adaptions to be made just so you can do your best to function. There seems to be very little compassion in the world anymore, people seem to be very self-centred and have less time for others, disabled or not and it is making the world a sad place to live in. As much as many people strive for equality and try to remove prejudice from the world, it will never happen. There will always be people that are closed minded about the struggle that is involved in living life with a disability and the effects that it has on every aspect of life. I will still always refer to The Spoon Theory when it comes to trying to explain how my disability affects me but even then it’s only one part of living life like I have to, like many people have to. There is so much more to it and trying to explain is incredibly complicated.
I hope that films like the How To Train Your Dragon ones, that have lead disabled characters, help to make people more aware of disabled people and one day will lead to a reduction in discrimination and prejudice.
One thing I have to add about the third film The Hidden World is a 3-minute section that I love for different reasons. From around 1:01:43 to 1:04:45 I feel an overwhelming sense of at peace and calm. I can watch the same bit over and over again and the way it makes me feel is beautiful. There is very little talking, calming music and a huge amount of creativity that has been put into creating a stunning, imaginative and colourful display.