Accents in movies …
Kids give you an excuse to see this sort of 3D computer animated stuff. The story ofHow To Train Your Dragon is about a Viking village plagued by a variety of colourful dragons. Our hero, Hiccup, manages to befriend and tame a Night Fury dragon and then befriends all the dragons and people stop killing them and everyone learns to respect their differences and lives happily ever after. Love interest is provided by the teen queen Astrid, herself a dab hand with a chopper (or should I say “battleaxe”).
The first ten minutes is Hollywood scripting at its worst. You’re launched right into a noisy and confusing night attack by the dragons on the Vikings and you’re expected to pick up plot lines amidst the bangs and crashes and bolts of lightning and dragonian flame-throwing. Basically, everyone thinks the wispy Hiccup is a wimp. Our 6 year old and 4 year old companions looked bemused. From then it rapidly gets better.
It made me think about the old question of accents in films. The Vikings find themselves with Scottish accents, perhaps a legacy of Shrek for Dreamworks Animation meant that big, gruff, beefy blokes sound Scottish. Also, the Vikings are kilted and bearded, if lacking in sporran, dirk and bagpipes. However, the Vikings’ spotty teen offspring have eschewed the rich parental burr for high school movie teen American.
I never had any sympathy with those snooty 1950s film critics who complained about the characters in biblical epics having American accents. There is no such thing as English without an accent. Either you have a variety of accents in English, or you go the Mel Gibson route as in Passion of The Christ, and have the cast speaking Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin; or in Apocolypto where they speak Maya.
Assigning an accent that feels right for the audience is crucial. In some 1950s epics, they had the Romans speaking in British accents and everyone else speaking in American. This suited the British listener who identified with the patrician empire-builders. In the BBC TV adaptations of Emile Zola, the folk of the North-East French coalfields had Yorkshire accents … Eeh, bah, gum, monsieur, there’s trouble at mill.It makes sense, as it’s a regional accent from a mining area. What would they speak otherwise? French-accented English? The issue was sent up in ‘Allo ‘Allo, the World War II sit-com about the French resistance where everyone spoke comically French-accented English (or comically German-accented English), that is except the English pilots (trying to escape) who spoke either Advanced RP or schoolboy French. When the English-speaking resistance leader had to speak to them, she moved from French accented English to public school Advanced RP. Listen, chaps … To complicate matters, there’s an English secret agent who is disguised as a gendarme. He speaks French-accented English but can’t pronounce words correctly, so his daily greeting isGood Moaning. In the last series, David Jansen who played Kevin in our videos A Weekend Away and A Week By The Sea, joined the cast as the German officer Herr Flick.
Oliver Stone was widely criticized for having the Macedonians in Alexander speak with Irish accents, while the Athenians don’t. He argued that the Macedonians moved in from the periphery and took over so needed a Celtic fringe accent. At the time, the naysayers believed that Colin Farrell, as Alexander, couldn’t do any other accent, so the others had to adopt Irish accents to fit. For audiences outside Ireland itself the effect was slightly comical: Get your swords and shields … the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem are at the walls with a mighty army.
Going back to How To Train Your Dragon, the Scottish was a fair call. Mel Gibson would have had them speaking historically accurate Old Norse, but this is a kid’s film. The foreign accent route would have left them sounding like the Swedish chef in The Muppets. A mild Scottish accent works as it’s one of the most northerly native-English accents. Given the jealousies and bickering among the class of trainee dragon killers, the choice had to be a teen accent. High school USA or Grange Hill? You go with what the largest audience finds easiest on the ear, which means American.
Shrek humour influenced the names too. I failed to pick up on much more than Hiccup, Astrid and Hiccup’s dad, Stoick, but other characters are named Gobber, Snotlout, Fishlegs, Hoark the Haggard and Phlegma the Fierce.