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When It Rains Meatballs and Dragons Fly

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Pixar's Up
Scene from Up / Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One afternoon, we were watching Pixar’s animated film Up and when it got to the part when the widower Carl was about to be brought to a home for old people, I asked my younger daughter, Alex, if they would send their father away if I died. Alex smirked in a dismissive fashion prompting Speedy to ask, “Why? Won’t you take care of me? Won’t you cook for me?”

Giving her father a sideways glace, Alex replied, “McDo.”

“Everyday?” her father asked.

“Okay, sometimes, Yellow Cab Pizza.”

“That’s all fat! And cholesterol!”

“Okay, sometimes, Pon Lo Tai (the nearest Chinese take-out/delivery).”

Well, she didn’t say she’d send him to a home for old people, did she, and I guess that’s what really counts.

Yes, we watch animated films. At home and in the movie house. As a family. My husband and I enjoy animated films as much as our girls do. In our forties? I’m joking, right? Wrong. Some of these films may look like they are meant only for children but, if you look past the animation, you’ll realize the layers of meaning. For instance?

Okay, for instance, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, the story of a town suffering from economic depression and Flint Lockwood’s Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (or the FLDSMDFR), a giant microwave machine that makes food out of water molecules. Flint, formerly shunned as a useless geek and nerd, becomes famous after inventing the machine that could make food rain everyday. To the delight of the townspeople, he could make cheeseburgers, spaghetti, steaks, ice cream and just about any kind of food rain with the push of a button. The town is now famous, draws tourists, and the people want more and more, including the mayor who turns obese from consuming the food that rained everyday.

When the machine startsto overload, disaster strikes. The normal food sizes turn gigantic causing damage and havoc. From a shunned nerd to a hero, Flint is now a public enemy blamed for all the misfortunes. When he tries to turn off the machine, the greedy mayor tries to kill him before running off to leave the townspeople to die. Flint eventually manages to put things right with a help of a few friends.

Yes, it’s a children’s film. But what spot-on commentary on human nature too! The public rejects anyone who is different, embraces him when he is useful to them then blames him and only him for misfortunes that they are partly to blame for too. And what a shrewd observation on the character of many of today’s politicians! A politician will use anyone who can make him famous. He will claim credit for achievements not his own. And he will ignore signs of danger just to glorify his name and his image.

Then, there’s How to Train Your Dragon, a story about the never ending fight for food and how men go to war so blindly, not knowing the real reason nor who the real enemy is. Yes, I am referring to the DreamWorks’ animation. There is no other film with the same title. And, no, I didn’t get the storyline wrong. How to Train Your Dragon is an allegory but you have to keep you mind open to understand the hidden meaning.

Hiccup is the weakly son of Stoick the Vast, a Viking chief. His island is forever under attack by dragons who steal the sheep for food. Ergo, there is a never ending war between the Vikings and the dragons, and with each battle the slaughter is terrible.

One day, Hiccup accidentally hits a dragon called the Night Fury with a home made bolas cannon. No one believes him. He goes into the woods, toward the direction where he saw the dragon fall, to get his proof. But instead of killing the dragon (whom he names Toothless), he takes pity and sets it free. The dragon, however, is unable to fly off as part of its tail is missing.

So commences a friendship between boy and dragon, and the taming of the dragon – a little closer everyday – is simply reminiscent of the scenes between The Little Prince and the Fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s celebrated children’s story. Hiccup fashions a contraption to replace the missing part of the tail and trains Toothless to fly with it.

When, as part of his dragon training (all the Viking youth go through it), Hiccup is required to kill a dragon, he does not do so but instead subdues it with gestures and words, tricks he learned from dealing with Toothless – when fear and anger are set aside, understanding and communication become possible.

To make a long story short, while flying with Toothless on day, Hiccup discovers why dragons steal their sheep – to feed a gigantic dragon that lives deep inside a cave that would eat them unless they fed him. Through all the years that the Vikings have been killing dragons to protect their food, they never bothered to find out where the dragons flew with their sheep (thinking is not a testosterone-driven activity). And Hiccup would never have found out about it had it not been for Toothless. When Hiccup accidentally tells his father about the dragon nest, Toothless is bound at Stoick’s order so he could lead them to the secret cave. How to Train Your Dragon is still showing so I won’t tell you how it ends. Suffice to say that it’s a happy ending.

So, the next time you watch an animated film with your kids, before you start laughing too hard at the on-screen antics, think hard – the joke might be on you for not understanding the film’s real meaning.