How To Train Your Avatar

This post contains spoilers for Avatar and How To Train Your Dragon.

Watching How To Train Your Dragon recently I noticed a few similarities with Avatar and not just in how the films look: coincidentally there are parallels with the plot as well. Here is my evidence:

1. Hiccup and Jake Sully are both unable to fit in at the viking town or the army base due to being a weakling/disabled. Hiccup forms a partnership with a dragon while Jake Sully uses an avatar – they both overcome their physical weakness through this symbiotic relationship.

2. They then go on to learn about the dragons/N’avi and there are long scenes where they hang out and learn stuff, with the slight difference that Hiccup doesn’t tfall in love with a girl dragon. First they get accepted and then they find out that dragons aren’t all bad and that the N’avi are not barbarians. There is even a pretty similar flight scene in both films.

3. Eventually they go native and don’t want the Vikings/military to harm the dragons/N’avi. Hiccup stops the arena fight while Jake stops the bulldozers. Soon they bring in their friends to help with their fight. Their friends also use a dragon/avatar. The general idea is that we should try to get along with our neighbours rather than just kill them which is all very well if you live in a happy cartoon fantasy land but frustrating in real life when your neighbours wake you up every day at 6am.

4. The Viking chief/the military Colonel launch their big offensive against the dragon’s mountain/the N’avi’s tree. Slight variation here as the Viking chief redeems himself instead of fighting Hiccup while the Colonel doesn’t redeem himself and gets killed. If the Viking chief had morphed into the giant boss dragon, the analogy would be perfect!

5. The symbiosis becomes permanent when Hiccup loses his foot and so depends on his dragon, while Jake permanently transfers to his avatar.

OK so this probably doesn’t really mean anything, and there is a theory called the monomyth or Hero’s Journey that basically says that every story has the same plot once you start breaking it down. They all begin with a hero taking a journey and getting a magical boon, and so on. The interesting thing is that these films actually are very similar in story but so different in feel. Avatar has clearly been designed to have a generic, accessible story, to give it the feel of a modern day myth and so it is no suprise then that it follows the monomyth template quite closely. And How To Train Your Dragon is a fairy tale – albeit a contemporary, quirky one – and fairy tales follow the template closely as well. It’s coincidence that both films have a passing visual resemblance, but it’s quite interesting that as both films are trying to create a classic timeless story and so are not straying too far from the idea of the Hero’s Journey, they have stumbled on another coincidence – that of having a lot of scenes, plot devices and character roles that are really quite similar.

The main difference is that How To Train Your Dragon is funny and charming, while in Avatar the dialogue is just a minor irritant that you can try to block out while watching the pretty pictures, but I won’t go into that here.

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