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Ideas, Into the Dark, Movies

The Problem with How-to

The movie “How To Train Your Dragon” is great!  While it follows a somewhat predictable cartoon plot line – within a community an unlikely and ill-equipped hero emerges to solve some huge eminent threat (think Finding Nemo, Horton Hears a Who, Up, Shrek, etc. etc.) – the animation is impressive and the story is imaginative and catchy.

Of all the great things to say about this movie, however, I have to admit that I HATE the title.  If it hadn’t been an intothedark film for May I wouldn’t have even considered paying to see it.  When I asked one friend if he wanted to watch it he told me no because it sounded like a porno (which couldn’t be further from the truth).

Not only is the title long, wordy, and perhaps misleading, I think it’s inaccurate.  “How To Train Your Dragon” is not a how-to movie and the fact that the writers of the movie named it so is alarming to me.  Yes, this is a small critique, but I think it’s also an important one.

“How To Train Your Dragon” is a story about a town of vikings plagued by the threat of destructive, viking-eating dragons and a main character, Hiccup, who sees the problem a little differently and comes up with a crazy, unconventional way to solve it.  Hiccup doesn’t follow or even create some new formula, a repeatable how-to strategy, that works to save his town – the plug and chug method, if you will.  Hiccup is a character who breaks the rules, fails often, exerts some serious emotional labor, and comes up with a new way to solve an interesting problem without following a manual.  (Picture Hiccup as Seth Godin’s ideal Linchpin.)


I remember in 7th grade giving a how-to speech on how-to wash a dog.  How boring and unimportant – and I still got an A!  (I promise other presentations were just as bad, like how-to make a PB&J sandwich.)  Anyways, my point is that when it comes to solving problems, what really matters is caring enough to fail enough to solve a problem that actually changes something important.

The truth is: No one who cares about manuals is brave enough to create a how-to script crazy enough to actually solve the problems that matter.  And anyone who is capable of solving problems that matter doesn’t care about writing a manual.

The important question, the one will change things, the one we should ask kids to give presentations on and watch movies about, is not HOW, but WHY.  Why does the problem exist, why is the manual not working to solve it, and why do you care enough to find a way to solve it?  This is the question with the potential to change things.

And I’m sure the writers of the film weren’t ill-intentioned in their movie naming.  Like I said, it’s a subtle critique.  But I think it’s one that highlights the inconsistencies in how we address our experiences, assumptions, and teaching about problem solving and creating change.

(Don’t let this stop you from seeing the movie.  Just ignore the title and tell the woman at the ticket-window you want “one for that cartoon movie about dragons.”)


About Samantha Curley

Hi! My name is Samantha Curley. I live in Pasadena, California where I run a non-profit organization called Level Ground (onlevelground.org). I like to ponder, ask questions, and share stories about life, art, and faith.


2 thoughts on “The Problem with How-to

  1. My best guess is that Chris is the one who thought it sounded like a porno. How immature and disgusting of him. …also, I thought the same thing.

    Posted by Lauren | May 2, 2010, 10:05 PM

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