Music, School of


First Advisor

Anthony Bushard

Date of this Version



A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Music, Major: Music, Under the Supervision of Professor Anthony Bushard. Lincoln, Nebraska, April 2020.

Copyright (c) 2020 Denise E. Finnegan.


In this thesis, I examine the dramatic and thematic associations within the score for How to Train Your Dragon in relation to John Williams’s score for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Both of these films contain main plot points associated with friendship and flying and each composer develops musical themes in accordance with these dramatic ideas. I analyze Powell’s evolution of his “Friendship Theme” as it relates to the friendship between the main characters Hiccup and Toothless and compare it with Williams’s handling of the “E.T. Motive” in correspondence with the friendship between E.T. and Elliott. I furthermore examine how each composer takes a short motivic idea and expands it into a longer musical theme during the first flight of each protagonist and his respective creature. I scrutinize where these themes occur and their narrative import, tracing their development alongside the characters’. I moreover explore Powell’s thematic development and compositional choices apart from Williams, displaying his sensitivity to subtler plot points in How to Train Your Dragon. I argue that Powell’s use of thematic development is pivotal in the storytelling of the film, greatly enhancing character development and our understanding of character relationships.

Advisor: Anthony Bushard

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