Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I am a good complainer. I have no difficult expressing my displeasure in a situation. My letters of protest have even managed to provoke change and exact apology. Years ago, though, I decided that if I'm going to write complaints, I also had to write compliments. So it is that I've written about the wonderful customer service at the Indigo Bookstore, when in Ottawa I filled out a nomination form for a hotel employee to win some service prize because of his exceptional service. And now, I am pleased to tell you, I am rooting around to find the appropriate person and the right address to write and express my pleasure at the wonderful attitude towards disability expressed in 'How to Train Your Dragon'.

Because I had heard that the movie dealt with disabilities is such a positive way, I went to see the film. I knew nothing of the story, did not know what to expect. We arrived for the late afternoon showing of the film, and though it's an animated film, there wasn't a single person under thirty in the theatre. There was another disabled guy there, sitting just down from us. He had lifted himself out oh his chair and transferred into the cushy seat.

Right from the 'get go' we are introduced to an awesome character with a disability. He's a huge Viking guy who, despite having lost both an arm and a leg over the years of battling dragons, is still a dragon. They made his prosthesis on his arm so cool that it seemed, for a few minutes, that it was simply a drag to have just a hand. The dragon, too, needs an adaptive devise in order to resume dragon duties.

What's cool is that disability is never mentioned, it's just automatic that the Viking is still a Viking, the dragon is still a dragon, neither is 'special' both simply move differently than others. The movie never preaches about disability, in fact it never mentions it. It's just there. It's just real. It's just a cause for creative adaption.

The movie ends with a huge disabled twist that I refuse to spoil for you, it's massively powerful in how it handles the moment. Massively.

At one point I knew that the movie makers were winking to us, disabled viewers, in the theatre. I glanced over and caught the expression of the disabled guy in our row. He looked like he was taking a drink of cool water. Refreshed. Invigorated. Inspired.

At Vita we are working on a 'Disability Pride' programme that we are going to begin within the organization. We want to present positive images of disability, generate discussion about disability as a positive experience. This film works perfectly as I can imagine a discussion regarding disability and what it means (because it does mean something) with both staff and members.

So I'm off to find out who to write (if you know let me know) because this film deserves praise. The disability community has little in popular culture to celebrate - well, here's our chance.

Join me.

See the film. Write the letter.


Brenda said...

Wonderful!! I already wanted to see the movie, and my one remaining under-18 little-un wanted to see it too - but for very different reasons than you describe. We just thought...aw, cute! But now, after reading your thoughts, I no longer Want to see this movie. I Need to see this movie. And it sounds like lots, and lots, and lots of other people Need to see it too. Thanks! (PS: I, too, share your belief that if you're going to complain, you also must compliment. If we are to find balance in the universe, we must cultivate it as well.)

Andrea S. said...

Upon reading this post, I immediately went to www.fomdi.com, which is an on-line search engine that deaf people in the US use to locate movies that are available at nearby theaters that have either open captions (captions that are visible on the screen for everyone, without the use of extra technology) or "closed" captions (captions that cannot be seen without extra equipment that is lent to you by the theater, specifically a reflective, transparent window that reflects the captions displayed in the back of the theater).

Alas, this movie is not available in the Washington DC area this week. I've no idea if it is captioned at all in the theaters. But if I miss it in the theaters then I'll try to look for it on captioned DVD.

Gina said...

Absolutely agree with you Dave. We loved the movie and the message it sent about disability and adaptation. We sprung for the 3D version and got Mac (who has significant CVI & CP) 3D glasses. I don't think he saw any less than he would normally and it was kind of cool to do what everyone else was doing.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog by the most odd series of links (isn't internet amazing) and can't wait to read more. Thank you for advocating for the disabled and I will definitely look into this movie. I loved I Am Sam and can quote almost all of it and have watched it countless times. I love the message in that movie that we all feel handicapped at some point- shouldn't we have more compassion and understanding?
Thank you

Susan said...

Great! Now I have something to do with the grandkids while I'm off next week!

Kristin said...

I was excited about the film even before you talked about it because my 13 yr old loved it. Now, I can't wait to see it!

FridaWrites said...

Oh, I'd meant to blog about this movie at length a few weeks ago and had forgotten! It is indeed amazing from a disability perspective. I hope the adult audience gets it!

That series is my son's favorite series of books--and he doesn't like to read as much as many kids do. But he loves those and loved the movie. They're very well done, and the disability perspective--well, nothing measures up. Let me know if you (or someone else) finds an address.

Liz Miller said...

My family LOVED the movie. The stuff you talk about here? NOT IN THE BOOK. In fact, almost nothing from the movie is in the book. So definitely talk to the animators about it, because they did it all.

Mary said...

I was as amazed and pleased as you were, and we will definitely be buying the dvd when it comes out. Just as you say, there is no commentary on disability, it's just there as a normal part of a world with dragons and war. With rockin' cool prostheses!

And no hint that disability is anything other than an inconvenience to be creatively problem solved.

And most of the Vikings are fat, but there's only one fat joke and they are obviously all in good shape. Again, being fat in no way interferes with their ability to kick ass.

Another thing they get right is gender. There are NO girls in the books at all. So they make the twins girl-boy and make the best warrior kid a girl (Astrid) who surpasses the main character in everything but inventiveness and compassion. And she is 3D - it's not automatic that she will side with Hiccup when he makes his case to stop war. She rides her own Dragon. Astrid saves Hiccup's life more than once. I kinda wish they'd made her fat and tall like the other women warriors (and there ARE others), but that's just not gonna happen in America.

I loved this movie. Maybe I can talk my own girl boy twins into seeing it again! :)

Anonymous said...

Saw the movie and LOVED it! And thanks to your blog, Dave, I understood that one of the coolest things about it was the way it portrayed disability so utterly matter-of-factly.

But I missed the point where you felt the filmmakers were winking at the disabled in the audience. Can you clue us in?

Be sure to see it in 3D if you have the option!


rickismom said...

How ironic. I just saw this movie last night! I also liked how they handled disability.

Tamara said...

We loved it too. And I love what Mary said - "and no hint that disability is anything other than an inconvenience to be creatively problem solved." I'm going to be quoting you, Mary! As far the twist - did he even blink?

Shan said...

Let me guess - you didn't like Nemo's "little fin"?!