How to Train Your Dragon

Dragons with a penchant for chewing off limbs and burning down houses plague the Viking village of Berk in How to Train Your Dragon. The first amputee character introduced is Gobber, a burly veteran; in peacetime he’s the village blacksmith and informal prosthetist, in wartime (which is pretty much all the time) he’s the chief’s right-hand man, and teaches Viking striplings their way around a dragon.

Gobber likes to tell his drinking buddies about the time he had his hand in a dragon’s mouth, boasting that he could have ripped out its heart, but the dragon decided to eat it before he had a chance. That dragon must have found him tasty and spread the word, according to Gobber, because another dragon ate his leg in a later battle. Fortunately Gobber could devise his own prosthetics with interchangeable attachments made of leather and iron, with the help of his apprentice Hiccup.

Gobber the Viking with his homemade prosthetic stone hammer.

Hiccup, the scrawny son of Stoick the chief, has been deemed unsuitable for dragon-fighting duty by the rest of the village. He tries building novel projectile weapons to compensate for his apparent weakness, but when one actually downs a dragon mid-flight he doesn’t have the heart to finish the job. Instead, he brings food to the injured dragon and the two begin observing each other.

Realizing the dragon he has mistakenly dubbed Toothless can’t fly in a straight line without the stabilizing fin on its tail, Hiccup devises a foldable one. He rigs up a mechanism to control it with his foot during flight, and the two nearly get themselves killed, and discovered, practicing. Hiccup convinces Toothless to bring him along on a trip to the volcano the dragons call home, and discovers they’re being oppressed by a much larger dragon who requires regular feedings of sheep, cattle, and people to remain quiescent.

Stoick gets wind of the nest and decides to launch an all-out attack. Hiccup, Toothless (and several other newly-trained dragons) join the melee, but are knocked unconscious by a fall from great height. He wakes up back in his hut to discover that he’s lost a leg. A momentary look of resignation crosses Hiccup’s face, then he gets out of bed to practice walking on the prosthetic that Gobber has already fashioned and put on for him. Supported by Toothless, Hiccup walks outside to the acclaim of the village, tease Gobber about his workmanship, and discover that his new prosthetic easily interfaces with the controls for Toothless’ prosthetic tail fin.

Based on the book How to Train Your Dragon Book 1, this movie must have offered many opportunities for merchandising tie-ins, such as the Adult/Child Costume Accessory Viking Helmet and Horns, the How To Train Your Dragon Movie Mini Talking Plush Night Fury, and of course the How to Train Your Dragon Milk Chocolate Dragon Eggs. Sadly, they didn’t think to market any branded leather-and-iron Viking prosthetic limbs. And even more sadly, the producers of the How To Train Your Dragon video game, set after the events in the movie, did not see fit to depict Hiccup as an amputee.

The How to Train Your Dragon DVD is properly captioned and has an audio description track, and even the DVD extras are subtitled. Kudos to Dreamworks for their accessibility features!

Out Of Sight

Due to the fact that this particular cinematic work has very limited dialogue and relies very much on visual spectacle, I will endeavor to give a through description of the action therein for blind readers of Disability Movies.

This animated film involving a pre-teen girl and her dog is short and sweet, and features a strong fantasy element. The style of this production is similar to “anime” or Japanese-style animation in which “cute” characters such as children or animals have very large, expressive eyes, and a lot of visual detail is included in settings and scenes, with a fine and consistent line used to draw both scenery and characters.  Soft colors predominate, though this film also uses a lot of primary colors on motor vehicles and fantasy sequences.  Unlike in Western cartoons, settings are often used to evoke a mood, give clues as to the climate, etc.

The short film opens with a brief title sequence. Dog paw prints appear one by one in a straight line on a blank background, then the accompanying dog is drawn and colored in. Next the lower half of a girl is drawn in beside the dog, and the two walk away with the trouser legs of an adult male following behind as the rest of the world gets filled in with color. A fence bears the title “Out of Sight” in an irregular blue font with a handdrawn look.

The story begins with a girl walking her dog down the street on a fine sunny day. Everything is going smoothly until a man (who is not clearly seen) suddenly steals her purse, jostling her shoulder.  The dog begins barking and straining at the leash; the girl tries to rein him in, but instead gets pulled along, wailing, as he chases after the thief.  The dog runs through a small hole in a fence while the girl runs smack into it. She stands there for a moment, stunned, then bangs on the fence and calls “Coco!”.

A subtle puff of wind from the hole blows at the edge of her skirt, alerting her to its presence.  She bends down to inspect the edges of the hole with her hands.

She crawls through the hole into utter darkness, and calls and claps for Coco again. Shuffling forward, she steps on a twig. The twig disappears when she moves her shoe off of it, so she bends down to pick it up. As she feels along its length with her hands the twig grows in size and definition.

Drips of water in the distance briefly illuminate puddles of light, and the girl moves towards the sound, reaching out with the twig. The twig strikes a bar of metal, and a windowbox filled with flowers appears surrounded by a metal grate. The girl gasps and withdraws the twig, which has turned into a magic wand. In the darkness, the girl perceives with her hands that the little split branch on the end of the twig has become a 5-pointed star with rounded corners. 

She begins waving the wand around herself, and her street clothes of straw hat and sky-blue dress are transformed into a conical “witches’ hat” and wizard’s robe, which are initially white, but quickly turn into dull purple. 

Her dog barks in the distance, and she turns to follow the sound. She follows a wall with her hands (which is drawn in bit by bit each time she touches it) and walks towards a bright light. She walks faster and with more confidence until she runs smack into a tree.

The girl calls for Coco again, walking around the tree and reaching out with the wand. The star strikes another bar of metal with a musical note, and the girl runs her magic wand back and forth along a series of metal bars which appear as she touches them. She begins to run alongside the metal fence, playing it like a xylophone until the fence turns into a brick wall.

Further tapping with the wand reveals a glass pane, which she presses her nose up against. Loaves of fresh bread and other tempting bakery items pop into existence, and fall into place on display shelves. A door appears on the left just as the sound of creaking hinges is heard, and a woman exits the bakery carrying a bag of fresh bread.

The girl resumes walking down the street calling for Coco, tapping with her wand as another building appears. A lady trailing flowers passes her, and the girl inhales her perfume just as an elderly gentleman smoking a stinky pipe surrounds her with a cloud of smoke. She follows the gentleman to an alleyway, where a ball of fur rolls around a garbage can lid. The ball of fur jumps down and rolls around on the ground until the girl sits down, then rolls towards her. It turns into a cat when it reaches her, and walks around her, rubbing against the girl to her delight.

Coco barks in the distance, scaring the cat away. The girl jumps to her feet and walks towards him with confidence. Buildings spring up as she passes them and taps them with her wand.
We see cars with fins like fish swimming in the street, and canals serving as traffic lanes.  A rumbling noise above makes her look up, and we see a giant blue whale airship with many pairs of fin-like oars floating in the sky.

The girl cups her hands behind her ears and stops to listen to the world around her in amazement as the wind blows through her hair. Just then, Coco runs up to her, bearing her purse in his mouth. She throws the wand away in surprise, and as it clatters to the ground it turns back into a twig while the world loses some of its color and fantasy aspect.

The girl bends down to hug Coco, and is surprised to feel the purse in his mouth. The viewer realizes, if they haven’t already guessed, that the little girl is blind as she perceives the purse with her hands. She puts the purse back in its rightful place on her shoulder, and Coco picks up the end of his leash in his mouth and puts it into her hand. They walk home together as the scene pans upwards, showing an airplane making contrails in the sky.

Altogether, this short film was a beautiful way to depict the way this young girl perceives the world. Many viewers expressed surprise and delight in the YouTube comment thread, saying they hadn’t realized until the end that the girl was blind.

The ending credits, in which the names of those responsible for the production appear in ideographic characters, show a still picture of the dog having surprised the robber by a tree, with the robber fleeing, having dropped the purse on the ground.

First ever cartoon for deaf children made in Russia

The first ever cartoon for deaf children has been created by the activists of an NGO in the Russian city of Kazan. The cartoon’s characters – different dogs – speak in sign language.

This project is unique not only for Russia, but also for the rest of the world – it can rightfully be called a social experiment. The Academy of Open Communications is the NGO behind the project.

The idea grew out of the company’s earlier initiative. At first they translated the beloved Russian cartoons “Prostokvashino” and “Karlsson-on-the-Roof” into sign language so that deaf children could enjoy them. In the screen’s corner they could see a signer, translating into sign language.

However, the organisers faced another problem: it turned out that many children do not use correct sign language, but communicate as they are used to. “With our cartoons we also aim to teach them sign language,” the director of the Academy of Open Communications, Tatiana Merzlyakova told Life News.

Dubbing-in each of the cartoon’s episodes cost some 80,000 roubles (aproximately $2,600 US). The money was collected during a regional charity drive. The renewed cartoons were premiered in the Tatarstan Republic’s cinemas and were accepted very warmly. Also, DVD-disks with the cartoons were released and distributed among special schools and boarding schools.

Developers started working on the next stage of the experiment – creation of a full-scale cartoon where the animated characters-dogs would speak sign language themselves.

“We had to do hard work on the characters’ dialogues,” said script-writer Alina Nuriakhmetova.

The sign-translators had to do their best to make the dialogues bright and interesting. Each of the three ten-minute episodes of the cartoon cost 500,000 sponsors’ roubles (aproximately $16,000 US). Those who worked on the project even learned sign language from scratch.

The new cartoon will be premiered in Kazan in September. And the organisers are already working on translating other well-known films into sign language.