Almost all heroic fiction is founded on the same Great Hypocrisy: “See that guy over there? He thinks that the best way to solve his problems is by killing people! That’s makes him a problem, so let’s kill him!” Explain to me again who the bad guy is here? In the real world, thankfully, meeting violence with violence is most often seen as a tragic last resort, but onscreen we aren’t satisfied until the villain has been turned into chopped liver. Watching people solve their problems through democratic action is boooring.
When we watch movies about would-be peacemakers, like Destry Rides Again, we root for them, but we don’t really want them to see them succeed, because watching everybody put down their guns and go home would just be... you know… lame.
So how can you avoid the Great Hypocrisy and yet still have a satisfying ending? Simple: you cheat. You can allow your heroes to make peace with the enemy army if you give that army a really evil, heretofore unrevealed, boss. The most famous example of this was Star Wars. In order to redeem Vader, Lucas cleverly brought in the Emperor late in the game. Otherwise, the trilogy would have had to end on a hug and no fight.
I grew up on the Star Wars trilogy and that pretty much ruined me for other sagas. That became my standard for greatness: morally serious heroes should seek to redeem the villain, not kill him. Thus, I was inevitably disappointed by the endings of “Lord of the Rings”, “Harry Potter”, “Lost”… any saga that tossed around heady issues but, in the end, came down to “happy ending = kill the villain”
So you can imagine how happy I was about (you guessed it) How to Train Your Dragon. As I watched it, I was thinking, “Gee they’ve been training all this time for a big dragon battle, but now they’ve got us rooting for our hero to make peace with the dragons instead. If that happens, it’ll be admirable, sure, but won’t that feel kinda unsatisfying?” But then, halfway through, we find out that the dragons have a big nasty boss, and I smiled... “They’re going to make peace with every dragon… except that guy.” Is it a cheat? Sure. But it’s a good way to satisfy both our higher moral sensibilities and our need to see a little ass-kicking.