Animated movies are often, though not always, the modem equivalent of literary fairy tales. In the mid-1970's Bruno Bettelheim published a fascinating study of classic fairy tales entitled The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. I thought it might be interesting to apply a few of his theories to three of my favorite animated films: Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2.
The inclusion of one Disney Studios movie with two from Dreamworks is not entirely arbitrary. Tangled is an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Rapunzel," featuring a young woman as its protagonist. How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel, adapted from a contemporary series of novels by Cressida Cowell, focuses on the fortunes of a Viking boy named Hiccup. Full of fairy tale-style adventure and excitement, both animated films are about the potential difficulties and rewards of growing up, and feature plenty of adult villains who failed to do so.
In addition to the male/female balance provided by pairing Tangled with the Dragon films, they also feature a wide range of problems for their heroes to overcome. Stolen from her real parents while just a baby, Rapunzel is brought up by a false mother who stifles the girl's natural desire for growth and independence. Hiccup, by contrast, is motherless and largely, if not intentionally, ignored and rejected by his father, an icon of Viking manhood the boy cannot possibly hope to match. A vibrant combination of animation, vocalization and music fuels these different yet similar stories of the childhood struggle for maturity and independence. And though made long after Bettelheim wrote about the deeper meaning of fairy tales, I believe these three films illustrate, through their own medium, much of what he had to say on the subject.
Rasmussen, Randy, "Tangling with Dragons: Growing Up Fairy Tale Style in Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon" (2018). Librarian Publications. 3.
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