This Started Out Much Better but Came To That

Dear J-

Here is what I love about the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, in no particular order:

1. The polyglot of English-speaking accents, from Irish (Gerard Butler/Stoic) to Scottish (Craig Ferguson/Gobber) to American (America Ferrara/Astrid and Jay Baruchel/Hiccup) to British (Cate Blanchett/whatsername) for an incongruous pairing with supposedly Danish Viking culture.
2. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who made my favorite modern Disney film (Lilo and Stitch, which I carry on most phones as a matter of principle).
3. The way they’re not afraid to kill characters (spoiler, sorry) in order to keep their story going.
4. The colorblind casting in general, but in particular America Ferrara as the blonde Astrid; if it’s about the best actress for the role, this is precisely as it should be but I understand how it might be impossible in anything but an animated film.

Let’s talk about this for a second: America Ferrara (Real Women Have Curves, Ugly Betty) as the impossibly thin, blonde Astrid (honestly, the Vikings in this universe are generally not as massive as they ought to be). She nails it, though the second movie is more about the Stoic/Hiccup family than the other Vikings, who play secondary supporting roles (here, we need some comic levity amongst your cosmic tragedies) to keep the story moving along. Now on the other hand this doesn’t excuse the colorfacing of Caucasian actors/actresses into characters of color (hello, Benedict Cumberbach as Khan Noonien Singh … or much of Sky Atlas … or …). Yeah, pretty much that.

Who knows what else we’ve missed all these years of ensuring that Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu were played by folks like Werner Toland, or that the characterizations were informed by stereotypes and reductive assumptions (hooray for Mickey Rooney as Kuniyoshi-san, right?). The best way is to remember what we found and do it better next time; we only have to remember we still have a lot to learn and much trust to earn. The drive is alive. let’s rhyme some more: the natives are restless, and I’m ready to peek out at the joy of … uh, leek?

Mike

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