How to Train Your Dragon – Dreamworks

Yeah, the slowcoach here has just finished watching Part One when everyone else is now watching Part Two. Well, as the saying goes, better late than never! Anyway, the first thing that catches my attention is the fanciful beards of the Vikings. It feels as though to make up for the lack of pretty hairstyles since the Vikings traditionally wear horned helmets (not much visible hair to meddle with) and there isn’t any typical “princess” character to mess around with her hair.

The plot is very simple and direct, just a violent war between the Vikings and the dragons, with endless casualties on both sides. As the plot unfolds, the protagonist proves to have a very different temperance from the rest of his kind. Hiccup, as his name suggests, is a boy who will end up in choking the progress of the situation whenever he tries to help. It is then revealed that he is not entirely useless, but just very different.

There are numerous “just-for-laughs” scenes in the show that will brighten up anyone’s day. If you have watched it already, you will know what I mean. If not, I shall not spoil it for you here. (laughs)

Of course, I shall not miss out mentioning Toothless, the lovable dragon who resembles a baby turtle with wings, and yet sits like a puppy. A heartwarming display of loyalty between Hiccup and Toothless convinces the rest of the Vikings (yeah, and me too) that friendship with the dragons is possible and it all ends well with the gigantic “evil” dragon being killed to end the slavery of the rest of the dragons. There is, however, a sacrifice made by Hiccup and I suppose that is to create a balance with Toothless’s damaged tail, in the sense that both of them are now a perfect match, since both are not able to travel around freely without any form of help. Or perhaps that is the payment for damaging Toothless’s tail?

One last thing – the background theme on the search for one’s identity is very inspiring in this movie as Hiccup finally achieves his objective of becoming a real Viking, but in his unique way, without compromising his compassionate nature.  This is a good reminder for anyone to continue to work towards his or her objective, bearing in mind not to trade off any inner qualities. 🙂

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Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

There are four main voyages in this book and I believe many are familiar with the first two, which are – to put it plainly – the Land of the Miniatures (Lilliput) and the Land of the Giants (Brobdingnag) . Both are quite exciting to read, as Gulliver’s unique size, whether too gigantic, or too miniature, poses a threat to his life in both places. Using his wits, Gulliver manages to secure an identity by taking on different roles that are complimentary to his physical size. He serves as a protector in Lilliput and an entertainer in Brobdingnag.

It is thought-provoking to note that his physical size remains unchanged throughout, but his roles vary in different situations. A leaf can be taken out of this, in the sense that for survival, we will have to be flexible to take on the most appropriate roles when situations arise, but not forgetting that our characters need not necessarily change. It’s a matter of perspective, not principles.

It took me long to get through the third voyage which consists of multiple places that are not as entertaining, for one thing there is no life threatening adventure, for another, it is a little too political. Perhaps the Augustans can relate better to this part, but I guess not so much for people reading this in this era.

Nevertheless, it is amusing to read that there are people who are so deep in thought that they have to be flapped constantly during any conversation so that their train of thoughts does not drift back to their little world.

Another weird group of people would be the ones who are so against right angles that they rather build everything without that, and at the expense of inconveniencing themselves. But sometimes, we also behave like that, to dislike something for the sake of disliking, or to object to an idea for the sake of objecting. It may sound silly, but I am quite sure everyone has some experience in that area.

The next point I would like to mention in this third voyage is that the author affects to some extent, my idea of an immortal. The popular notion is that an immortal enjoys a life of good health and youth that does not expire with age. In this part of the world, the immortal only gets to enjoy a life that does not expire, but has to go through the same aging process that inevitably comes with its share of “usual disadvantages”. Furthermore, communication with the rest of the society is hardly possible due to failing memories and generation gaps as there are very few of these immortals around. Imagine being left alone eternally in a world, where you can hardly communicate with anyone and having a body so old that there is basically no activity suitable for it. Scary, isn’t it?

The last part of the voyage is very engaging. In this Country of Houyhnhnms, mankind is not the most intelligent creature that rules over everything else. The most intelligent ones are the horses. Gulliver then takes on an honoured role to serve one of the horses. Although I find it somewhat disturbing that in the end he turns into a misanthrope, it is a refreshing concept not to have mankind as the leader of the world all the time. Speaking of which, this reminds me of the movie, The Avatar, where the protagonist in the end converts from a human into an alien, instead of a cliché assumption that a human form is the best choice. Perhaps this Houyhnhnm voyage could be adapted into a science fiction movie whereby mankind is waging war with alien horses. Boring, did you say? Oh come on, aren’t you still watching every Godzilla movie?

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Utopia – Thomas More

I came across this title in my course of study two years ago but I never got down to reading it. It was only lately I borrowed it from a friend, that I regret not reading this earlier. Although the content is very much in its Renaissance context, anyone in today’s world can still read and understand it as a unique perspective of an ideal society.

The sense of satirical humour in the text is the element that keeps me going. It is like a serious piece of document, presented in “comic sans ms” font with numerous emoticons that one cannot help laughing at the mismatch between the solemn content dressed in a whimsical tone. To start off, the bulk of the story is related by someone by the name of Raphael Nonsenso. The name itself already implies a nonsensical narration! Furthermore, the content includes places and names such as “Aircastle” and “Flatulentines”. And of course, we should also bear in mind that “Utopia” actually means “noplace”.

There are two parts in this story, with Book One relating the ills of capitalism, and Book Two presenting the solution as a communist state. I personally enjoy Book One more, as it is punctuated with witty humour throughout. The futile attempts of a philosopher with the intent of fairness for the entire society are dramatized in a lighthearted manner that he will appear no more than a fool providing entertainment for the King and his cabinet of advisors.

As for Book Two, it gets a little too idealistic that it makes logical sense in parts but not as a whole. It is only just yesterday that my doctor told me that our brain only takes in 25% of what we see, and we make up the rest to complete the vision. That is the reason why we see different things even though we may be looking at the same objects.

For the entire society to operate on the same principles, same logic, same sense of reason, as well as same preferences, is just too impossible. Conditioning can be done from young to cultivate a similar mentality but that is provided that that society is shut up from the rest of the world. The utopian society seems to operate with a strict sense of monotony and obedience, with just a little variation in religious beliefs. How does such a society come about in the first place when the Utopians have dealings with the outside world all the time? Somehow, the external influencing factor is totally eliminated!

Yet if everyone is supposedly of a similar mentality, then why would there be any differences in religious beliefs? And what would happen to those ladies – when presented naked to their prospective husbands – whom the men deem as unattractive since everyone has the same taste?

On one hand, the impossibility of such an ideal society may appear to imply the absurdity of such a perspective, but on the other hand, there are little practicalities that we can easily relate to our present world. One would be the simplicity of laws. It is mentioned that an average person will not have the capability, in terms of time and effort since he will always be at work earning his bread, to do extensive research on laws. So in order for laws to be effective, they should be as few as possible and as simple as possible, so that an average man can easily understand and remember them, and therefore obey them. The same can be said for policies in today’s context, isn’t it? It will always be hard for a person to abide by something that he doesn’t understand.

Before starting on this review, I also did a quick reading on Thomas More and I am sad to know that he was executed for treason, and no, he didn’t betray the King over to any enemies but simply died as “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” I believe the scholars could probably have a field day debating on this, but my personal view is that it is merely a difference in religious beliefs and that obedience is a quality that has to be sustained over one whole lifetime. Any instance of disobedience, just one time, is more than enough to knock down the entire wall of obedience built over years.

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Frozen – Disney

I love this movie for a couple of reasons; great songs, charming characters, unexpected twist of plot towards the end, and of course a lesson to learn, in a lighthearted way.

I heard the song “Let It Go” before watching the movie and I am conscious of the overdose of marketing efforts on this movie.  I had witnessed one boy exclaiming “Frozen again?!” in exasperation, followed by “I hate this song I hate song!” while the movie was replaying itself on the screen at Popular book store.  This reminds me of the song “My heart will go on” from more than a decade ago.  My friends and I loved that song, but were sick of it because it was almost everywhere.  Too much of anything is never a good thing.  Still far from the repulsive state, I find “Let It Go” an emotionally charged song, from despair to acceptance, and finally freedom.  This is definitely a song meant for stage performance.  I shall learn to shut my ears at appropriate times from now on, so as to sustain the liking for this song.

Another song that caught my attention is “Do you want to build a snowman”.  This song, though lighthearted, details out Anna’s lonely childhood and her longing for her sister’s companionship.  The title is very apt and realistic, as some things never change with time, and sometimes all we want is to play a game with our loved ones, just as we used to, when we were young.

“Reindeer are better than people” is a song that is actually acknowledged by Anna, and this is amusing in a musical movie as characters simply tend to sing, instead of talk, their way through. This would be a tiny moment of self-reflexivity in a musical movie. The song by Olaf is very cute and “minion-like”.  His innocence (naivety) is magnified and this is likely to set anyone worrying about summer effects on Olaf.  As for the rest of the songs, I find them very ordinary and not much to mention about.

There are a number of charming characters in the movie but my favourite is Sven the reindeer!  He has the loyal heart of a husky, the strong body of a reindeer and the curiosity of a child.  I cannot forget the scene in which he tangles the strands of ice drops in his antlers and jumps about in delight to make music.  It is just so cute!  Another cute antic of his would be the attempts to lick the snowflakes as they are floating up.  I can still remember that gleeful expression.  Although he does not really speak, Kristoff’s animated voice for Sven fits in with his overall silly adorable image.  This is certainly better than a reindeer that never speaks.

The next character I have in mind is Olaf the snowman.  Though somewhat naïve, Olaf has a spirit of self-sacrifice, and this is what makes him so endearing.  This is especially at the scene where he says that this is the happiest day of his life, but probably the last.  I think the cinema would be flooded with tears, if he really did melt away there and then.  

The other characters are quite typical roles in the plot; Anna as the heroine (usually clumsy and not at all feminine), Kristoff as the helper (usually gets the heroine out of trouble at all expense) and Hans as the hypocrite (usually exposed before any real damage is done).  The character that has conflicting attributes is Elsa.  There is a moment where I suspect she has turned evil, but all she does is to look different.  She is still the guilty sister at heart, very afraid to harm anyone.  Both sisters have the role of the protagonist and it is hard to decide who is more important than the other.  Elsa, being the one wielding the supernatural power to change the world, resolves her inner conflict and reconciles with the society at the end.  Anna, on the other hand, remains the same throughout.  Although there is no change in her attributes, she is the one leading the audience on the journey in search of something.  

From the look of the poster, it would be easy to assume a happy ending with two couples in marriage but as the story goes, the two men are after the same sister and there is none for the other.  The unexpected twist comes in the end, where it appears that the great sacrifice has to be done, but of course, it ends happily as tragedies can hardly find any place in Disney’s shows.

The lesson to learn is of course, kinship and love.  Romantic love is downplayed in this movie, to make room for sisterly love and that is something wonderful.  Very often, movies are highly romanticized to the level of fantasy and I think we can do without another addition.  It is refreshing to be reminded that “an act of true love” does not necessarily limit itself to the bond of romantic love.

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