Monday, March 29, 2010

Of Dragons and Disabilities

Over the weekend I saw "How To Train Your Dragon," the new DreamWorks cartoon and box office sensation, with my wife and our younger daughter. I'll spare you my rant about wearing 3-D glasses -- and my hope that this latest trend doesn't last.

What I loved about this movie was a completely overlooked, unexpected subplot detail.

Nobody told me there was a disability theme in the story.

One of the main adult characters, the Viking leader's no. 2 guy, is a double-amputee who keeps fighting, one of the bravest and most loyal of all. Not that he's an overcomer super-crip type. He just blends in. In fact, I didn't even notice his replacement limbs until halfway into the movie. Then, the primary cute dragon-cum-pet needs a prosthetic rear wing. Finally--well, I don't want to give away the ending. Let's just say another character acquires a prosthetic aid toward the finale, too, and after a pause it's no big deal. No rousing, uplifting, inspirational hoo-ha, and no tears. It's not glossed over, either, because accommodations must be made (and nobody can make them as well as the injured person himself, which certainly rings true for me). They all work together for the good of the mythical half-Norse, half-Irish (huh?) island kingdom, with full inclusion for those maimed in combat.

Wow! Very cool.

I hope it teaches kids something about the value and acceptability and normality of assistive devices, prosthetics included. You know, in a way the story is dead on. Historically disability and war have always been closely linked. One of the earliest known references to disability-related hardware comes from an ancient Sanskrit text that tells of an Indian warrior named Queen Vishpla, around 3000 BCE. A battle injury led to the amputation of one of her legs. An iron leg was made to replace it, and she returned to fight again. (See the Disability History Timeline)

Motorized wheelchairs might not have been invented if not for the veterans of World War II--improving upon designs putatively sketched by George Westinghouse in the late-19th century and, later, British engineers during the first World War, for injured soldiers and civilians. In the early 1950s a Canadian inventor named George Klein supposedly perfected a model motorized wheelchair for WWII vets, which in 1956 became mass-produced by a California folding-wheelchair manufacturer called Everest & Jennings. Though those early chairs were notoriously slow, E&J dominated the wheelchair market for the next 30 or 40 years. (See A Chronology of the Disability Rights Movements)

So hooray for the understated disabilities theme in the dragon movie! Overall, the story ain't bad either. But next time, if I had it to do over again, I think I'd go for the 2-D version. The tickets are cheaper anyway.
University of Southern California/Rancho Lifestyle Redesign

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation on the movie! I took my kids to see it (one of whom uses a powerchair) and the whole family loved it. I really appreciated the treatment of disability in the movie, especially the penultimate scene involving something akin to clipping into a bike pedal for cyclists (don't want to say too much and be a spoiler).

    I've noticed a surprising amount of great treatment of disability in children's programs. The animated Little Bill (a Cosby creation) has a close friend, Monty, who has cerebal palsy and uses a wheelchair. And, one of the main characters in the kids' show Raggs uses a wheelchair. Couple those depictions with inclusive (e.g., "boundless") playgrounds and fully integrated classrooms, and maybe, hopefully, there's a revolution afoot.