Breaking down the score of How to Train Your Dragon

Music Notes

Music Notes

When people think about movies they often don’t think of the music. Or if they do, it’s songs like Let It Go or Hakuna Matata. But the score of the movie, the instrumentals, and the themes are some of the most underappreciated parts of movies and matter a lot more than most people think. Scores are what make the movie emotional. They raise the tension. And they can further develop themes throughout the movie or movies. 

“How to Train Your Dragon” has my favorite score and it does an excellent job at doing everything a score should do. ”

How to Train Your Dragon” has my favorite score and it does an excellent job at doing everything a score should do.

The opening, “This is Berk establishes everything we will see during the entire movie. It opens with a theme that becomes the theme of Berk, the Vikings, and their way of life then right after that we hear Hiccup’s theme then the dragon’s theme, Stoick’s theme, the friend group/teenagers theme, and finally Astrid’s theme. This opening establishes everything in the movie: the protagonist, the antagonist, the setting, the population, and what drives the antagonist for a while. And it does all of this in four minutes. Just taking the time to do this it grows the bond we feel with all these characters throughout the movie. Just by establishing music that goes with them, that belongs to them. It establishes all of the music that John Powell (the composer) will be using and messing around with within this movie and the following two. 

All except one we don’t hear Toothless’s theme until he and Hiccup meet each other in the forest for the first time. This way we meet Toothless for the first time just as Hiccup is. 

This score also has three more songs that I adore. “Forbidden Friendship”, “Test Drive”, and “Romantic Flight”. Forbidden friendship is the first of the three I’ll talk about. It is an excellent example of building tension in a scene you see this a lot in horror movies like Halloween for example or Jaws. The entire scene is a montage of Hiccup and Toothless bonding slowly and becoming more comfortable with each other. The music is steady throughout the scene but as Hiccup is stepping around Toothless’s scribbles. The music’s tempo picks up rapidly building this feeling of tension. Then everything dies down to a bunch of quite gentle long ah ah ahs as Hiccup backs into Toothless then steps away, looks away, and sticks out his hand waiting for Toothless to accept their Forbidden Friendship. 

The movie then moves on to Hiccup figuring out how to ride Toothless and we start to see John Powell adapt Toothless’s theme. The first time we hear Toothless’s theme John Powell uses bagpipes, a more unknown and uncommon instrument as Toothless is the unknown in this story and unfamiliar to Hiccup. But in this scene, we hear John Powell use more familiar instruments that he used earlier on in the story. He also combines Hiccup’s and Toothless’s themes together for the first time in this scene as this is the first scene they actually learn to fly together as one. This all accumulates into a very thrilling scene. Hiccup starts out un confidently using his little cheat sheet to fly with Toothless. And in the background, we hear the combination of their themes together for the first time. And it feels exhilarating. As it should be, it’s their first time actually flying together. It is scary but also exciting and new. They start quickly climbing up in the air higher and higher until Hiccup’s cheat sheet gets blown away then while reaching out to grab it he falls off Toothless both of them are now flailing in the air falling quickly towards the sea. The music takes a sudden drop getting lower and more frantic the closer they get. We hear a bunch of deep Ohh Ohh Ohh. Hiccup eventually mounts Toothless again and grabs his cheat sheet. But in a leap of faith right before they both hit the sea Hiccup throws his cheat sheet away, avoiding the sea at the last second. The music takes a complete 180 going back to Hiccup’s and Toothless’s theme that we heard at the beginning of the scene but this time it’s on steroids. It turns into the grandest and most thrilling music. As they weave through the maze of rocks in unison as one. This would be great without the music.

But the music makes it so much more exciting, thrilling, and frantic than it would’ve ever been without it.”

But the music makes it so much more exciting, thrilling, and frantic than it would’ve ever been without it.

The final scene I will talk about is Romantic Flight. Throughout the movie, Astrid slowly grows more suspicious of Hiccup finally she catches Hiccup with Toothless. Hiccup tries to convince her not to tell anybody by taking her on a flight on Toothless. Toothless doesn’t like Astrid at first doing a couple of barrel rolls. But then he calms down and so does the music going back to Astrid’s theme that we first heard in the opening. And that’s all nothing really happens with the music in this scene, no changing themes or combining them it just sounds wonderful that’s it. Just a beautiful sounding and animated scene lasting for 2 minutes. I don’t really have much to say about this scene and song, I just suggest you watch it. 

Next time you watch a movie, I hope you listen to the music throughout the movie thinking about how it adds to the movie or hurts it. How the composer developed themes, characters, and settings with just music. And how the music changed each scene, hopefully making it even better and more emotional.