Tangled vs. How to Train Your Dragon – A Comparison of Heroes

Posted: May 3, 2012 in Comparative Critical Essay

                          “Alright class, you guys have to do a comparison essay comparing two different movies of your choice.” The moment I heard that uttered, I knew then immediately that my choices would be “How to train your dragon” (2010) directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and “Tangled” (2010) by Dean Wellins and Glen Keane. “How to train your dragon” (2010) is a 3D computer-animated fantasy film by DreamWorks Animation and was loosely based on the English book of the same title. “Tangled” (2010) on the other hand is also a computer-animated musical fantasy produced however by Walt Disney Animation Studios and was the 50th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Both immediately became movies of my choice as they are in my opinion, one of the few best animated films ever made in history. Besides that, I believe that both films depict strongly on the journey of a hero in each individuals story based on Joseph Campbell’s (1904 – 1987) theory from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The focus on the hero Flynn Rider from “Tangled” (2010) and Hiccup from “How to train your dragon” (2010) as heroes on journeys are analyzed further, beginning with an analysis of the similarities between the two films followed by a breakdown on the journey of the hero adapted from Joseph Campbell’s theory.

                        These two movies are alike each other in numerous ways. The first and most blatantly obvious is that both films are made using animation and graphics. Secondly, both movies have heroes who are on a journey in which they originally did not want to accept. Thirdly, the similarity that both characters have lovers whom they don’t get till the end and are also part of the storyline. Lastly, both movies depict heroes who are males who do not have a mother in their lives, Flynn being an orphan and Hiccup having lost his mother at a tender age. These similarities however end there as both the heroes are faced with different calls and journeys in their life which will be further discussed below.

Ordinary world

In the world of “Tangled” (2010) we enter into a bright and sunny day and we see that our hero, Flynn Rider who is a thief, is on a mission to steal the golden crown from the palace. A man with a boy’s mind, he claims that it is a “big day”, a day in which if he succeeds, he can become rich and buy his own castle as he dreams to own in the future. On the other hand, the ordinary world in “How to train your dragon” (2010) is no ordinary one as the hero, Hiccup narrates. In fact, he begins by saying, “This is Berk, its 12 days north of hopeless and a few degrees south of freezing to death.” Berk is a Viking village in which Hiccup lives in and ironically calls “sturdy” when in fact, they are war-like from being constantly under attack by the “pests” – the dragons – who come to steal their food and flocks almost every night. Unlike in “Tangled’s” opening daytime scene, the scene in which we are brought in begins during the night time with Hiccup’s world begin in a state of disequilibrium where the town is fighting off the dragons. Unlike Flynn’s strong and muscular physicality, Hiccup is shown as a young teenage boy who is physically like a wimp but desires to be like his Viking villagers who fight and train to be dragon killers. Like Flynn, Hiccup too has a dream and that is becoming the first person to kill a Nightfury, a type of dragon in which no Viking has ever killed.

To counter his physical disadvantages, Hiccup has an incredibly brilliant mind that constantly invents new weapons to aid him in killing dragons. We see Flynn in “Tangled” also an intelligent young men but uses cunning ways to help him get out of sticky situations such as leaving his companions behind while being chase by the palace guards. Hiccup who genuinely cares about others is contrasted with Flynn’s obnoxious personality who is unaware that the crown he’s stealing belongs to the loss princess, Rapunzel and that there is even a loss princess only caring about having his wealth and living a luxurious life. Flynn’s world that was previously in a state of equilibrium begins to be shaken as he finds himself chased by the palace guards and is forced to escape up a tower after being hunted down by a horse named Maximus who becomes his second mentor in the latter part of the film. Flynn finds himself up Rapunzel’s tower thinking that it’s a safe place of refuge from his pursuits. Instead, while gleefully looking into the bag containing the crown he is knocked out by Rapunzel who then ties him up before he can escape. This then leads to Flynn getting the call to an adventure in helping Rapunzel discover her identity while helping him find his that changes him from a boy into a man.

Hiccup in contrast, tries to convince Gobber, the sword smith and a good friend of his fathers’, Stoick to let him outside to make his mark as a dragon killer. Gobber who’s his first mentor replies,“You leave plenty of marks, all in the wrong places!” and tells him indirectly that not every Viking is cut out to kill dragons. In addition, his father, Stoick who’s also the town’s fearless warrior leader refuses his plea to kill a dragon and does not want Hiccup to undergo the dragon-fighting training although many kids his age attend. Through this beginning, we see that Hiccup is a boy who has yet to discover his true identity, like Flynn. Again and again, Gobber and Stoick tell him to stop trying to be something that he isn’t. “Many things Hiccup, but a dragon killer isn’t one of them,” quotes Stoick. Disobedient, Hiccup goes outside anyway and launches his invention to kill the Nightfury and successfully hits the target. His journey then begins when he goes out looking for the dragon he supposedly killed.

The Call and Refusal of the call to Adventure

Up in the tower in “Tangled” (2010,) Flynn meets with his call to adventure and his first mentor that guides him in little ways throughout the journey. His mentor, a chameleon named Pascal jolts him awake to receiving his call by sticking its tongue into his ear. Rapunzel, who cleverly hid the satchel containing the crown, offers a deal with Flynn in which he has to take her to see the “floating lanterns” and bring her back safely before she returns him his satchel. Flynn off course refuses such nonsense and instead struggles to break free by physically trying to get out of the chair or trying to flirt with Rapunzel giving her his “smooch”. Many close-ups are used in this scene to show emphasis on the characters expressions such as refusal from Flynn and determination from Rapunzel and Pascal. The refusal of the call is similar with Hiccup in “How to train your dragon” (2010) who has a different call. While on his way to search the dragon he killed, he is disappointed that he has not found its body in any parts of the forest he’s been too. Almost giving up, he stumbles upon a dark and misty part of the forest in which he sees broken and torn branches hang loosely all around. The creepy and thrilling music accompanies Hiccup’s investigation in this scene and we see that Hiccup has successfully brought down the Nightfury who is tangled up in thick rope. Hiccup then takes out his knife and closes his eyes to kill him but hesitates. In that moment, Hiccup and the Nightfury look into each other’s eyes and Hiccup is called to make a choice – to kill and be like all his other Viking members, or to not kill and be different. Trying to distract himself, Hiccup tries to refuse his call by closing his eyes again in a hurry while taking huge deep breaths.

In response to their calls, both heroes react similarly by accepting their calls in the end. In “Tangled”, Flynn reluctantly agrees to take Rapunzel not before making sure that he’ll get his satchel back after he has taken her to see the lights. Rapunzel promises him firmly that she never, ever breaks her promises and is confirmed with a glare and a nod by Pascal. Hiccup on the other hand stops at the last second and instead of killing the dragon as he planned, we see him cut the bonds from the dragon loose as he is compelled with guilt from causing harm to the Nightfury. The dragon then jumps on him but like Hiccup, at the last second roars at Hiccup and turns to fly away instead of killing him. From then on, the Nightfury who’s nicknamed “Toothless” by Hiccup becomes his mentor in teaching him what the dragons truly are and helping Hiccup discover his true potential and identity.

Entering the Labyrinth: Tests, Allies, and Enemies

In “Tangled” (2010) Flynn enters the labyrinth as he enters into the jungle with Rapunzel. Having to deal with an emotional and conflicting Rapunzel, Flynn again tries to run away from the problem by pretending to bring her to a safe place to eat which is actually a bar called the “Snuggly Duckling” that filled with “bad men”. Instead, the bar men recognize Flynn as the wanted criminal and wants to turn him in but is rescued by Rapunzel. The plot point of the musical “I have a dream” in this scene is crucial as this is the beginning of change of Flynn’s character especially towards Rapunzel. In “How to train your dragon” (2010), Hiccup is allowed to train to kill dragons alongside his peers and his crush, Astrid and enters the labyrinth of the arena in which the dragons are released and the kids are trained by Gobber as they fight along. Hiccup then meets his first confusion as when he is about to be attacked by a dragon, it doesn’t stop to kill him like Toothless did. After Gobber tells him that a dragon never lets go of its prey, Hiccup then begins to investigate Toothless only to find that it is trapped in a valley as one of its tail wings are gone.

Flynn in “Tangled” (2010) meets his first test in which he has to escape the palace guards who barge into the pub in search for him. He escapes with Rapunzel in a dark cave that leads to a dam construction outside. Instead of running away, Flynn begins his first change by fighting the palace guards whilst Rapunzel swings him to safety with her hair. In the midst of the struggle, Maximus the horse breaks one of the woods that’s holding the construction together which releases a gush of water from the dam. Flynn and Rapunzel then flee into a cave only to be trapped in darkness with no way out. On the other hand, Hiccup in “How to train your dragon” (2010) receives tests after tests as he has to attend the dragon killing trainings whilst covering up that he is keeping Toothless in the forest and making a prosthetic wing for Toothless to fly again. In the process of befriending Toothless, Hiccup discovers that dragons are in fact harmless creatures, discovering weaknesses in the dragons such tickling the dragon, giving it grass to go crazy or eels to be afraid. In doing this, Hiccup successfully brings every dragon down in the arena using the methods he found that frustrates the rest of his peers especially Astrid. Through one close call, Astrid sees Hiccup walking into the forest with his flying gear making her more suspicious than ever.

The rebirth of heroes according to Joeseph Campbell is usually shown through the use of water. Although the use of water is shown in “Tangled” (2010), “How to train your dragon” (2010) shows a unique rebirth through the act of forgiveness and humility between Toothless and Hiccup. This special moment is shown when Hiccup brings some fish for Toothless who can’t hunt due to its injury. Despite its hunger, Toothlesss coughs up half of its eaten fish to share with Hiccup. This beautiful scene continues with music that is both encouraging and mysterious as we discover that Toothless is a very intelligent creature – much like the humans who can mimic expressions, draw faces and is forgiving despite what Hiccup had done in injuring it. The final moment is when Hiccup reaches to touch Toothless but Toothless refuses to submit to him. It isn’t until when Hiccup looks away that Toothless allows him to touch its face. Instead of looking at Toothless directly in the eye, Hiccup chose to look away which is a sign of humbling himself and instead saying that he is not bigger than Toothless but respects him. This sign of humility is the first step to the building of friendship and trust between the two.

“Tangled” (2010) on the other hand uses water as a symbol of rebirth for the hero. As the water level rises in the cave, Flynn who is trapped with Rapunzel admits that his real name is Eugene. This is a turning point as Flynn then enters the innermost cave of the labyrinth by confessing his real name to Rapunzel. The mentioning of his real name is like a door in which he was opening to Rapunzel and letting her see his who he really is inside. This then leads to Rapunzel confessing that her hair glows and immediately sings that help them escape the cave into the open. From this rebirth we see that like being in the cave, Flynn’s confession of his name releases him into the open and finally admits to Rapunzel his true past. He allows her to heal him physically by mending his hand and emotionally as she confesses that she prefers Eugene “much better than Flynn Rider”. The musical number of “I see the light” reflects much on Flynn’s change of character as she has brought light into his life and finally sees the light. He no longer cares about the crown and wealth but instead cares for someone other than himself which is Rapunzel.

From here on, both heroes are faced with the biggest challenge which for Flynn is to escape his death sentence and rescue Rapunzel from Mother Gothel and Hiccup in killing the “queen bee” of the dragon nest. Flynn is allied by Maximus who rescues him from prison with the help of the bar men. Other allies include Pascal who helps to trip Mother Gothel making her fall out of the window into her death. Hiccup on the other hand is allied by Astrid (who was won over previously with Toothless’ help) and the rest of his peers in fighting the fearsome dragon. Other allies include his father who finally believes in him, Gobber and the rest of the Viking villagers who try to bring down the fearsome dragon.

The Big Change and the Reward

In some ways I believe that the big change or the ordeal in Joseph Campbell’s words is somewhat the climax of the film in which the hero charges full on against his enemy in battle. The rewards are the outcomes of the hero’s actions during the big change.

In “Tangled” (2010) Flynn fights Mother Gothel in a way that’s unlike the usual charging scenes. Here, Mother Gothel pretends to be Rapunzel and lets down her hair to Flynn to draw him up, except that it is drawing him up to his death. Once entering, Mother Gothel stabs him in his side and is left to bleed to death. We see that Flynn then fights to save Rapunzel by cutting all of her hair with a broken shard of glass before she can heal him from his injury. The low-key lighting with dark shadows all around are used throughout this scene, especially right when Flynn slices of Rapunzel’s locks and Mother Gothel slowly shrivels and withers before our eyes. Flynn wins as Mother Gothel trips out of the window and down below, turning into dust along the way but looses as he takes his final breath and dies in Rapunzel’s arms. Despite this, he has rewarded Rapunzel the gift of freedom in exchange for his life, as well as being able to see her one last time while confessing his true feelings to her.

 “How to train your dragon” (2010) however uses the well-known styles of a hero charging on into battle with his ferocious enemy. “How to train your dragon” (2010) Broken by having Toothless captured by his father and making it lead them to the nest to destroy the “queen bee”, Astrid helps him remind himself who he is and he then gathers all his friends and trains them to befriend the dragons, teaching them to ride them in preparation to fight the looming monster and rescuing Toothless. Long shots are used in many parts of this scene especially when Hiccup (who’s riding on Toothless) is fighting with the dragon in the sky. We see Hiccup and Toothless make a heroic and dangerous move in saving his people and the other dragons by shooting a spark of fire in the dragons’ mouth up in the air. However on the way back down, the prosthetic of Toothless’ wing burns up and we see time slows down as the flames engulf them both before landing.

Resurrection and Return

Flynn’s journey in “Tangled” (2010) does not end in the previous scene as we see him come back to life, by Rapunzel’s tears. Brightness then fills the room again as Flynn and Rapunzel finally kiss for the first time. Likewise in “How to train your dragon” (2010) Hiccup comes back alive but with only one leg and a prosthetic supporting his other leg. This saddened moment however is uplifting as we see one of the most powerful scenes in this movie in which both Hiccup and Toothless walk side by side, supporting each other whilst showing that they are both crippled -Toothless with half of his back wing and Hiccup with one leg. Together they are shown as one, completing the other half.

In both of these movies, the heroes are changed inwardly as well as outwardly from being once boys to men. The ending of the movie “Tangled” (2010) shows the return of Flynn to the palace, only this time to bring the lost princess, Rapunzel back to meet her real parents. We see that the bar men have indeed achieved their dreams but most importantly, Flynn achieved his as well. He is shown to have given up thieving, going by the name Eugene from and marrying Rapunzel in the end. In “How to train your dragon” (2010) Hiccup who’s brought back to his village finds that dragons are now welcomed in the village. Like “Tangled” (2010), Hiccup gets the girl with Astrid kissing him and thanking him for “everything else”. The scene ends with bright high key lighting of daytime in which all 5 of his friends including Astrid and himself ride into the sky, racing each other happily.

In conclusion, both “How to train your dragon” (2010) and “Tangled” (2010) depicts a story of a hero’s journey. Although different in certain elements, the hero’s journey as Joseph Campbell writes is one that is the same in all cultures, in every life be it in the story itself (The Monomyth) or the hero itself (The Journey). I believe that such stories are important in teaching us things for our everyday life as in reality; we’re all heroes on a journey to discovering ourselves. Hence, I would recommend these two films for others to see as there is much more to learn than what has been discussed in these movies.

  1. adprosebud says:

    1. The personal stuff really doesn’t belong in a formal essay.
    2. Your analysis is excellent throughout – although you do quite a bit of storytelling.
    This is a fine essay. You write somewhat inefficiently, retelling a lot of the stories, but your attention to detail and cinematography are excellent. I wish you had focused on one or two aspects of the films and gone into more detail rather than write such a wide-ranging essay. It spreads itself out very thin. Some of the insights you got were from the websites you list in your bibliography, which is fine – but you should have cited the particular ideas more specifically. Nonetheless, there is enough of your own thinking here to merit a high grade.

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