Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Animation Analysis: Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon

     Beware! Beyond this point, There be Spoilers!

    How to Train Your Dragon surprised many people when it came out. It was one of Dreamworks Animation Studios more serious works abandoning the days of Shrek where parodies and puns were over saturating every film. It was even said by some to be a 3D movie that outdid Avatar's 3D visuals. As someone who has a somewhat small obsession with dragons, I was excited for this film and it did not disappoint me. But like with a lot of things I like, one trip to a website forum can depress the heck out of you. I noticed people complaining about this movie calling it generic and simple. But what surprised me the most was most of the hate was directed to one character; Astrid. I remember seeing one artists' work on, where they drew themselves talking smugly to Astrid saying "So you fell in love after a simple flight around your village? Geez, how deep." This comment on Astrid's character was to me so ignorant that it angered me. It's one of the things that lead me to write this blog. I will in try to explain why I think Astrid is a deeper and more complex character than people give her credit for. 

Astrid in the Beginning
     In the first scene with Astrid, Hiccup watches in awe as she calmly walks away from an explosion. A "lonely island" skit comes to mind here. Right off we can see that Astrid to Hiccup, and possibly everyone else, is seen as this tough,strong, and independent lass who doesn't take crap from anyone. That is what most take from this opening scene.
Look #1
But what most miss is what happens later in the scene after Stoick the Vast, Hiccups dad, criticizes him for running around where he shouldn't be. As he is sent away and walks by the other teens who are mocking him, we see Astrid sitting down with a sort of somber look on her face. She seems to be in deep thought about something. When she looks up as Hiccup passes by, Her look has more sadness to it if ever so slightly. The other teens look at Hiccup with discontented glances, but she doesn't. Also interesting to note that as Gobber slams down one of the teens playfully, Astrid withdraws a bit as if it startled her. It's here that I noticed that there might be something hidden in her personality that isn't reveled yet. Something is bothering her and we are left to wonder what that might be. I have a theory for what is going on here but I'll save that for later.
    Later on, the teenagers enroll in dragon training as their parents ship off in search for the dragons nest. As Astrid and the others work hard and hone their skills, Hiccup is building his relationship with the nightfury he caught, Toothless. In doing so he ends up being late for the dragon training meetings and screwing up during the battles with dragons. On one of his first times being late, he gets a second look from Astrid.
look  #2
At first it seems that she shows some interest in him arriving but then her expression changes to loathing. It's clear that she is getting turned off by his lack of effort in dragon training. It still seems odd though giving that she had such a kinder expression in that first look earlier when he was causing a mess in the dragons' raid. The reason is revealed later in their training with the Deadly Nadder. In Hiccups clumsiness, the Deadly Nadder almost harms both him and Astrid if not for Astrid's quick thinking. After defeating the dragon, Astrid turns to Hiccup in anger and yells at him. "Do you think this a game? Our parents' war is about to become are own. Find out what side you're on." It is here we learn about what has been driving Astrid this whole time. Astrid realizes the burden that are beginning to be place upon her. As their parents go off to fight the dragons in some distant land, she has to carry the burdens of the village and the fights with the dragons along the rest of the teens . That is, in my theory, why she had that sober look to her in that first scene. The pressure was starting to show and she was obviously scared of the struggles she would soon face. I think that as the training took it's course, her steady progression had helped built her confidence some and seeing Hiccup now she feels angry that he isn't taking his responsibility seriously.

The Idea of the Complex.
     In the second half of the film, Hiccup has learned a lot about dragons while working with Toothless. He then uses this knowledge to improve in his dragon training and out perform everyone including Astrid. He gains attention and respect among the teens and becomes a prodigy in the village. As this happens, Astrids look has changed once again. She now looks at Hiccup with extreme loathing. You can look at this two ways. One is the simple premise of jealously seeing how the attention has gone from her to Hiccup very rapidly. The other way is to look at this is the idea of the complex. I first learned of this idea from the anime His and Her Circumstances. In this show, the discussion of the main character's dislike for another comes up. The theory is presented that the character didn't truly hate the other but merely had a complex about them. They said that a complex was nothing more than misplaced admiration and that the hatred came from seeing this person following the same goal of perfection but doing it with more noble causes instead of some attempt at fame. I feel that something similar is going on here with Astrid. She can't understand how someone like Hiccup is overshadowing her since he doesn't act like your typical Viking. She sees there is something different about how he is doing things but can't understand it so it results in hatred and bitterness.

The False Pretense of the "magic carpet Dragon Ride"
     This next part is the thing that really gets under my skin when discussions of Astrid come up. People love to talk about how "Astrid had such a quick change of heart simply from seeing her village from the clouds" or "She fell in love and kissed Hiccup after a generic carpet ride". I can't understand how so many misunderstand the purpose of this scene. It deals not with Astrid and Hiccup but with her and Toothless. You notice how when Astrid and Toothless first encounter each other, a stand still occurs where both are weary of each other and it's only Hiccup that prevents a battle from happening. This is because Toothless sees Astrid as nothing more than another violent viking and Astrid only sees toothless as a vicious dragon. When Hiccup tries to change Astrid's view of Toothless by taking her on a ride, Toothless tears violently through the sky messing with Astrid. But in the chaos, Astrid eventually breaks down holding tight to Hiccup closing her eyes screaming "I'm sorry I'm sorry, Just make it stop". At this point she is at her lowest and has dropped her tough viking persona That's when Toothless calms down. When Astrid opens her eyes again she sees the wondrous beauty in the clouds above and the world below. This "magic carpet ride" as some try to compare it to was not a change or heart for Astrid towards Hiccup but towards Toothless.

The True Change of Heart For Astrid to Hiccup.
     In this dragon ride, Hiccup and Astrid discover the dragons nest and the truth of why the dragons would raid their village for food; to feed their queen of monstrous size. When arriving back to the cove, Astrid is hyped up about the discovery and says they should tell the village about the nest. Hiccup immediately does not like the idea for fear they will harm Toothless. Astrid is confused by Hiccups refusal to tell the village. "We just discovered the dragons nest. It's the very thing everyone has ever dreamed of when our viking ancestors first sailed here." Notice she still has the mind set of a viking. She thinks of conquering of her foes, the war against the dragons for centuries, the same thing that every other viking she ever met has been raised on. "And you want to throw all that away to protect your pet dragon? Are you serious?" Hiccup responds in a way Astrid does not see coming. He simply turns to her and says "Yes". Then we get the final look from Asrtid.

For as long as Astrid has known Hiccup, all she has ever seen him do is fail. He's always stumbled on his words, made a fool of himself, and shied away when his opinions were confronted. But Hiccup did something here Astrid has never seen him do before. He looked her straight in the eyes, without hesitation and without a stuttering word, he calmly made a stand for what he believes in. And the amazement in clearly displayed in Astrid's face. If you have to pinpoint when Astrid starts to fall for Hiccup or have a change of heart, THAT right there is it. When she saw in him real strength. Also many point to Astrid kissing Hiccup on the cheek as making her "too easy", But really since when is a kiss on the cheek an immediate sign for falling madly in love with someone? Astrid just didn't know how to properly apologize for things or to comfort him at the time so she simply kissed him on the cheek as a sign of trust.

Everything comes full circle. 
     The last scene worth noting is when Astrid talks with Hiccup after the truth is found out by the village, Toothless is captured, and the vikings leave for the dragons nest. This scene is my favorite for the dialogue and what it means in the whole point to not only Hiccups character but what it reveals when you look closer at it. 

Hiccup: Why couldn't I have killed that dragon when I found him in the woods?
It would have been better for everyone.
Astrid: Yep! The rest of us would have done it. So why didn't you?
(turns to Hiccup intently)
Why didn't you?
Hiccup: I don't know. I couldn't
Astrid: That's not an answer.
Hiccup: Why is this so important to you all the sudden?
Astrid: Cause I want to remember what you say...right now
Hiccup: For the love of...
I was a coward. I was weak. I wouldn't kill a dragon.
Astrid: You said "wouldn't" that time.
Hiccup: Whatever! I wouldn't. Three hundred years and I'm the first
viking who wouldn't kill a dragon.
Astrid: First to ride one though.
Hiccup: I wouldn't kill him because he looked as frightened as I was. 
I looked at him and I saw myself.

Remember how earlier I had a theory to the first look we see Astrid give Hiccup as he walked by in that first scene? I think the same thing that Hiccup mentions here was happening. Astrid was scared by the burdens that would soon be placed on her, and when she looked at Hiccup she saw he was scared too. She saw herself. I also feel this is what happened with Toothless when Astrid got scared while he was flying her around in a wild fashion. He saw she was just as scared.

Final Thoughts. 
     I feel Astrid's character was truly created as a reflection of Hiccup's character. They have different views on the viking culture and were taking two separate paths, but they were both scared teenagers with a lot of pressure upon them. Through Astrid, the animators tried to give characterization through actions and facial expressions instead of dialogue. I feel they did it wonderfully with Astrid. She is a much deeper character than most give her credit for. They say you can't take things at face value but with Astrid it is the very thing that expresses her. You can find such depth there, you just have to learn to look for it.

sources used
-screencaps taken from How To Train Your Dragon by me.
-His and Her Circumstances Vol 1 DVD


  1. So, the reason why Astrid was angry at him, when he was improving dragon training day by day, was because he, Hiccup, wasn't actually serious in dragon training like Astrid?

    1. There was some jealousy on Astrid's part. You can see resentment towards the attention switching to Hiccup and leaving her behind. I mention the theory that in the opening scene when she looked up towards Hiccup that, like Toothless to Hiccup, she saw herself; another one scared with the pressure upon them. It's with this theory that I think the anger was more complex than just jealousy hence the "complex" theory.

      Also when someone who doesn't fit the mold of what we are a part of achieving things greater than us, it can get under your skin.

  2. You nailed it! wow. I started seeing some of these things after watching it 5 times or so. Personally, I think Astrid had some feelings for Hiccup through most of the story if only buried very deep. The hug she gives Hiccup on Toothless is a bit more than just relaxing. While you're spot on with the analysis between Astrid and Toothless on the ride,I think there was some things being knitted between her and Hiccup. The scenes in the Cove and on the pier were major points in their relationship as you pointed out. the Pier is probably my favorite scene in the move.

    Very nicely done!


  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hm, I added a post and it disappeared.

    Watch Astrid at the pier when Hiccup says "Thank you for summing that up." She grimaces ever so slightly. Gotta hand it to the Dreamworks animators. They don't waste anything.

    1. Wow, I didn't even catch that. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Astrid was definitely a sore loser in the final training sequence. She said; "This time, for sure". Then she jumped over the barricades yelling and screaming, only to find that hiccup had already vanquished the dragon. Hiccup wanted Astrid to win, I was surprised that you didn't address this part in your analysis. Was it petty envy, or what. Astrid had to know Hiccup's secrets, so she followed and confronted him.

  6. Thank you for this excellent breakdown of a great character!

  7. Thank you sooooooooooooooooo much for such a awesome blog! Can you do a blog about Hiccstrid???? please??? Just curious what you would say/type XD Oh and if you do make a hiccstrid blog us the episodes of httyd! If you don't could you use a new and improved astrid thing (This blog) when you talk about the eps and why people shouldn't hate Astrid or what ever this blog is about XP

  8. well, i guess that's good defence, but the reason i hate her is because they cute my favorite character out of the book and when they tried to replace her, they didnt even get the character correct!