Reviews & Commentaries

How to Train Your Dragon 3: On Growing Up and Growing Apart

Disclosure: I’m a sucker for animated films. Never have I failed to shed a tear watching Pixar and Dreamworks films. How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World is no exception for me, if not way more emotional. The thing is, I missed the first and second film in 2010 and 2014, and had only watched both last year, so the plot and storyline were still deeply engraved in my memory.

The thing about these animated films is that they are so beautifully made, you get sucked so easily in the surreal world of the film, and deep down you feel like seeing a glimpse of your own life in the heroes’. Sometimes those glimpses are glorious and triumphant, other times they are emotionally draining and let’s just say, sad.

If the first and second HTTYD films struck an emotional chord in you, this one will at 10 times the scale. In this post I want to talk in particular about the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, and why if you’re a normal adult, you will deeply relate to what happens to them in the film. The reason for that is because this film is less about dragon-loving Vikings, and more about coming of age, no matter how old you are.

SPOILER ALERT (Won’t reveal everything, but I will make plenty of references of certain stories)

If you’re familiar with the franchise, you know that they started as sworn enemies, with both being tied down to the rules that govern their upbringing at the time. However, Hiccup and Toothless are the exception. They established a bond despite their differences. At first coincidentally, and later wholeheartedly. They shared many commonalities, with both being “unique” compared to their respective groups. Hiccup being seen as weak and hopeless, Toothless being the last of his subspecies. Then, like how bonds of friendship are formed, they also faced a common enemy: havoc-wreaking humans.

They powered through tons of challenges together, always side-by-side. Hiccup and Toothless both lost a limb on the same battlefield. Hiccup helped Toothless fly again, Toothless helped Hiccup establish order to his village. The bond grew stronger. Toothless witnessed how Hiccup found his strength as a leader of his village, and then eventually found his future wife. Hiccup helped Toothless realize his power as an alpha dragon. At this point, nothing was stopping them. They were inseparable.

Then, like most friendships, they grew apart. Not intentionally, of course. It was simply that Toothless found a female dragon, who like him, was the last remaining female of the subspecies. Since dragons also have feelings, they instantly fell in love with each other. Hiccup rooted for them, even to a point of making a new automatic prosthetic tail so Toothless could fly independently without needing Hiccup to go on a date with the new girl. This naughty new girl brought Toothless home on the first date, where Toothless saw a world unlike what he had witnessed so far. This Hidden World only consisted of dragons, all living in harmony and peace.

Needless to say, Hiccup felt like his friend was abandoning him, but he couldn’t be selfish. His best mate found the love of his life and he wanted nothing but the best for him. Hiccup contemplated the fact that Toothless would be better off without him. He recalled how his father had let his mother go without wanting to find another woman, and he wondered if he would ever have the heart to let his best friend/ comrade go. After all, he could make it this far only because of Toothless. Or so he thought.

Toothless and New Girl

Well, Toothless didn’t come back for days from his date in the Hidden World, and when he finally did, he looked unhappy and distracted. Then more roadblocks happened, and for one final time, Hiccup and Toothless teamed up to defeat the evil nemesis. With the last remaining obstacle cleared, they came to a silent mutual understanding that they belonged to a separate place in life; Hiccup as the chief of his village, Toothless as the king of dragons. Two great comrades, two great destinies ahead of them.

They hugged each other one last time, each knowing the other would be better and happier with this decision. And with that, Toothless and the rest of the dragons all headed to their origin at the Hidden World, where they would spend the rest of their lives without war and the sinister of humans.

SPOILER END

So what is it about growing apart that crushes our souls? And what is it about adulthood that mandates going away to “find your place”? Can friendship, unlike most romantic relationships, survive long distance?

The “Science” of Self-Discovery and Growing Apart

It’s quite simple that I don’t think I need to dedicate a section for this. I think what Gretchen Rubin said explains everything: “You have to lose yourself to find yourself”. This comes down to how we were programmed growing up. Since we’ve always been dependent on others in our childhood and adolescent lives, we are eager to navigate the ship of life on our own as adults. The promises of an “ultimate” way of living entices us to go out and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

This is what is expected of us, and in turn, what we expect ourselves to do once we become adults. We constantly try to find the ideal life we can get. Naturally the definition of ideal varies from person to person, but even the laziest of people will do some sort of soul searching on their own to achieve this. Now in the case of Hiccup and Toothless, them being fictional characters in a fictional world targeted for young audiences, they are very clear on what they want to do in life, and how to do it. Hiccup wants to be a great chief and marry the no.1 woman in his village, Toothless wants to live happily ever after in the dragon world with his new mate. Separating from their best friend? A small price to pay.

This is 90% of the time not the case for us normal adults. Most often we leave not knowing what we’re looking for, or if there is anything to look for in the first place. If you happen to be the minority of adult who leave your nest because you know for sure what you want, then let me remind you: YOU ARE PRIVILEGED. Accept it and be grateful for it. 

For the rest of us, we leave our comforts to gamble and search for the Hidden World that may not be there. Do note that this can happen at any point in our lives. In the process of self-discovery, we might find a Hidden World-equivalent world, or perhaps we find Crappy World instead. Then we start to think if all this gambling is worth all the effort and soul crushes, with the promise of “you’ll be a better person in the process”. Blah.

The Hidden World – and in HTTYD, it’s not crappy

Now, with other factors aside, is it worthy to sacrifice your solid friendship(s), your best comrade, your brother/ sister from another mother/father, to pursue an image of the ideal life? And what’s the chance of survival for your friendship if you still decide to continue with your self-discovery journey?

Long Distance Friendships Are Stronger

To start off, I’d like to make a comparison of HTTYD to La La Land (yes, very similar category, I know). In La La Land, similar stuff happened to Mia and Sebastian as with Hiccup and Toothless. Through the struggle of building a career for their lives, they established a strong bond that grew stronger as the story progressed. The difference is, Mia and Seb’s relationship is romantic. As with the cases with most romances that grow apart, they don’t stand a chance of rekindling in the future, even with good intent on both sides.

This is not the case with Hiccup and Toothless. If the nature of the friendship is strong enough, challenges of time will not wither the bond. You stand very far away from each other, yet you still know your best comrade is always there, cheering for you, supporting from afar. Hiccup and Toothless had been away from each other for years before they finally met up again at the edge of the world, yet the bond remained as strong, if not stronger. Most solid friendships are this way. I have experienced it. I’m sure you have.

As of now, some of the strongest and most lasting friendships I have are long-distance (well, actually my romantic relationship is also long distance, but that’s beside the point). Thanks to the technology called WhatsApp, LDF (long distance friendship) is easier than ever. There’s no reason for you not to call your friend for 2 hours on the weekend to give a full update on all the dramas that happened during the week, and vice versa.

The result? My longest LDF spans for more than 10 years, despite being away from each other for more than 5 years. I have a few other LDFs in the process, and it is such pleasure to be able to speak about a thousand things in life when that next phone call happens. My LDFs give me the same sense of belonging as with my short distance friendships.

However, this is not the case when each LDF started. I was in no way like Hiccup and Toothless. I felt crushed and terribly lonely every time a dear friend went away or I left them. I felt empty. Hollow. Like I’m not going to be able to find their replacement. Little did I know that I in fact don’t need to find their replacement at all.

That being said, some of my LDFs didn’t last too long also. Things happened exactly as I feared; we grew apart as we grew older. Calls became seldom. Meetups were few and far in between. Talks became awkward. And you know what? It’s okay. Sad as it may be, it is a part of life and if you really want them in your life, you will go to the end of the world to look for them. Or maybe drop a message saying you miss them and would like to talk.

But now you don’t need further proof that LDFs are worth it, and really good friends are worth it. This is a bonus tip for the forever lovesuckers: there are so many spectrums in life other than just about mating, so start sowing strong seeds of friendship if you ever want life to be meaningful. Don’t even contest me on this one.

Moral lesson of the day? Watch How to Train Your Dragon 3, and culminate some strong friendships so you may be as inseparable as Hiccup and Toothless.

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2 Comments

  • Bud

    This really hits hard home. As much as I was angry on the spoiler (haven’t watched it), I love your view and focus on the story itself.

    It’s true that sometimes people grow apart. There’s just so many things going on in their lives that are different for each other. And bcs of this they just stopped talking to each other. Might be bcs they no longer find a common ground/interest, or a party thinks that the other party’s life is too trivial or even intimidating.

    Your post somehow makes me believe that with genuine intention you can really connect with someone without the other aspects of life affecting it. Yes, you might be busy and have different schedules. But as long as you care about each other, want to check up and share with each other, it would be good enough to keep the relationship going. Afterall the nature is different than that of a romantic relationship where physical intimacy is a major aspect of it and trust is less flexible.

    And thanks for writing this post. It’s refreshing to know another coming of age movie that actually focus on platonic relationship rather than romantic ones. And good luck on your LDF!

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