How to Train Your Dragon – movie review


Word on the street is, this is the first year Dreamworks Animation has a real shot at beating out Disney Animation for an award or two, and the reason for that is simple: How to Train your Dragon.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first time in as long as I can remember that Dreamworks has made a fantasy without a meta level – and by that I mean, a wink and nudge at our modern world, like Kung Fu Panda being an homage to kung fu movies, or Shrek‘s lampooning of Disney style happily ever after. Honestly, I took it as a sign of Dreamworks’ maturity, that they could trust themselves to keep us entertained with simple storytelling, instead of having to employ winks and cleverness. And standing solely on its own two feet, this story works beautifully.

How to Train your Dragon is a wonderful realization of a classic paradigm, a boy and his (insert pet here – horse, dog, etc) – only in this case, it’s a ridiculously awesome dragon (warning: you will want one). Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the team behind Lilo & Stitch, this movie is similar to their previous work in how it manages to be heartwarming without being schmaltzy, and adorable without straying into cutesy. There is nothing in this movie that will make a young boy roll his eyes, even when it’s being downright touching. And I have to say it – just like in Lilo & Stitch, DeBlois and Sanders once again do stellar work in using a creature’s ears to convey emotion. Anyone who has ever had a dog or horse will recognize – and love – how Toothless (the dragon) uses his ears to express himself, and his eyes are downright phenomenal. This dragon can convey being a dangerous monster or a cuddly pet with breathtaking ease.

In terms of story, this movie isn’t shockingly original (UP it is not), but it hits all the right notes – Hiccup, a sensitive boy who can’t live up to his warrior father, sets out to prove himself by killing a dragon, only to find himself betraying just about every Viking tradition there is. And as you’d expect, the heart and soul of this story is the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, and it tugs your heartstrings exactly as it should. The sequences of them together, learning to communicate and eventually fly, are easily my favorite part of this film – and a lovely excuse for Dreamworks to flex its animation muscles, because in terms of detail and composition, the flying sequences are easily the most beautiful animation Dreamworks has ever produced. The attention to lighting and scope gives this movie a truly epic feel, such that it never once looked like a movie intended for children.

Not that this movie is perfect – I will say the reason why the dragons are driven to attack the Vikings is just a little bit of a stretch, but I was too busy being wowed by the flight and fight scenes, particularly at the end, to let it bother me overmuch. I also was jarred every now and then by modern colloquialisms – “busted” and “all this” just didn’t belong in this fantasy world, but Dreamworks can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to modern flare. Plus, why all the parents have Scottish accents and the kids American accents is anyone’s guess – but honestly I was so mesmerized by the amazing animated detail of Stoick’s beard (Hiccup’s Dad), that I managed to let the accents go. And Gerard Butler does have exactly the right booming voice for a big, strapping Viking.

So while How To Train Your Dragon isn’t a new story, it is a good story, and I think it’s the best one Dreamworks has made to date. And I for one am looking forward to this continuing rivalry between Disney and Dreamworks Animation, because it obviously has pushed both studios to produce better movies, which we now get to enjoy. I will happily reap the fruits of this rivalry’s labor for many years to come.

Book Jacket:

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer” … but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and becomes a hero!