There’s been a lot of talk about fatness in film lately. But you know who’s a great, non-problematic fat character, who didn’t require the use of prosthetics or an egregious fatsuit?
Themberchaud, the absolutely adorable fire-sputtering UNIT from Dungeons and Dragons.
Dragons are right there in the name, a fire-breathing Chekhov’s gun for the fantasy realm. At some level, especially for people like myself who aren’t too familiar with the game, you’re waiting for an awesome scaly bastard to show up. Maybe it’s a hoarder of treasure. Maybe it’ll be an especially smart and cunning dragon, voiced by a British actor. Maybe it’ll chase the heroes across the rolling hills of the countryside, spewing fire as they barely keep ahead.
And in fact, this does happen in flashback, when one of the dead barbarians recounts a battle—though even there the usual tropes are subverted: the enemy is a black dragon, which sprays acid instead of breathing fire.
But the dragon who gets the most screentime is of a whole other stripe.
When our heroes brave the Underdark, there are a number of canonical monsters they could encounter: Aboleths (evil eels with psionic powers), Hook Horrors (vultures with hooks for
hands wings), or the classic Beholders (a giant floating tentacled cyclops head) and Mindflayers (Cthulhu-faced humanoids with psionic powers)—any of which would have been terrifying. Instead, the film introduced a decidedly different denizen of the Underdark, and we finally get our titular dragon. Themberchaud bursts from his lair, or, well, he tries to burst—he keeps getting stuck like a cat squeezing through a too-small cat flap.
And he’s just so… cute? I mean he’s huge and frightening and might eat the heroes, but he’s also so squishy and I can’t help but ask the party: “have you tried hugging Themberchaud? Or scritching him under his wings? Maybe that will work in this case?”
I think part of it is how he works with his shape. Rather than trying to fly, he chugs along like an earthworm. Rather than rearing up on his hind legs to impress them with his size, he rolls toward them, reveling in the way his weight carries him. He just seems so happy and excited to have something to hunt. And don’t get me wrong, I love the party in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, but I have to admit I was rooting for Themberchaud a little bit. Not to eat them, per se, but just to, I don’t know, win in some way. Kind of like how whenever I see a Godzilla movie and Mothra shows up, any empathy I have for the humans is totally overridden by my concern for her well-being. So when Xenk actually kicked Miette stabbed Themberchaud, I might have gasped. A little. Quietly. But my gasp was drowned out by everyone else in my theater noticeably panicking (I heard a few yelps of “no!”) and then all of our cheers as the party escaped without doing any lasting damage to our new favorite character.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since my screening. The writers made a lot of excellent choices to give us a family-friendly movie. There are real stakes, and moments of darkness and raw emotion, but they’re balanced with character-driven humor. The humor is smart rather than pandering to some focus group’s idea of what kids laugh at. Edgin’s daughter is realistically angry with him, and the film treats her sense of betrayal with utter seriousness, and Edgin’s whole arc is about learning to apologize and mean it. The love and acceptance between Holga and Marlamin is treated with that same seriousness: she’s sad that their relationship is over, but she can also be happy for him and move on. When Simon comes into his own as a magician, it’s because he’s faced up to his own self-doubt, not because he learns a particular spell or defeats an external foe. Xenk is annoying because Paladins are always annoying—but he’s a Paladin because he’s Seen Some Shit, and he’s right about everything. And we all love Doric even when she’s a worm.
But of all the characters I might love the fat dragon the most. The filmmakers could have given us any number of scarier beasts in the Underdark, but they chose Themberchaud, and made him a realistic threat that won’t, most likely, lead to lasting trauma for any children in the audience. And they could have gone the way of a lot of movies lately and vilified fatness, but instead the dragon uses his shape to his advantage, eats a bunch of bad guys, and, at least from what I’ve seen online, won most audience’s hearts along the way.
I don’t care about the consequences. I want to squish him SO HARD.