How to Train Your Dragon had been removed from my “must see in theater” list; the trailers made it look mediocre at best. That being said, positive word of mouth and a 98% Tomatometer Rating made me rethink my “wait for Bluray” decision.
Plot synopsis from IMDB:
“Long ago up North on the Island of Berk, the young Viking, Hiccup, wants to join his town’s fight against the dragons that continually raid their town. However, his macho father and village leader, Stoik the Vast, will not allow his small, clumsy, but inventive son to do so. Regardless, Hiccup ventures out into battle and downs a mysterious Night Fury dragon with his invention, but can’t bring himself to kill it. Instead, Hiccup and the dragon, whom he dubs Toothless, begin a friendship that would open up both their worlds as the observant boy learns that his people have misjudged the species. But even as the two each take flight in their own way, they find that they must fight the destructive ignorance plaguing their world.” Written by Kenneth Chisholm
How to Train Your Dragon is a familiar tale, emotionally it’s very reminiscent of last years, excellent, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Both stories center around and oddball son who doesn’t really fit in with the world around him and his single-father is unsure how to deal with it. Like I said familiar stuff.
Where How to Train Your Dragon really works is in the journey you go through with Hiccup (the son) who is able to find himself with the help of an unlikely ally: the enemy. That enemy a feline-like dragon he names “Toothless,” is such a wonder that you can’t help but be captivated by his personality and power. There are also many other types of dragons (with very distinct personalities) that have human counterparts in the likable supporting cast. The main characters include an excellent voice cast featuring Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber) and America Ferrera (Astrid) who appear to have been chosen because they fit the characters and not just because of who they are.
The animation is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen from Dreamworks Animation. The film is visually stunning and has a deep richness to every frame and at times feels very life-like. There is no doubt this is a direct result of the Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins being brought in as a lighting consultant.
The other part of the visuals that really makes the film come alive is the 3D. I’ve spent some time knocking fake 3D but don’t dismay, this is 3D at its best. While not quite as immersive as Avatar, viewing How to Train Your Dragon in 3D a worthy endeavor. My favorite part of Avatar is the flying on the Banshee sequence; no filmmaker has ever captured the unadulterated joy of manned flight quite like Cameron has. Surprisingly How to Train Your Dragon is a close second and is equally thrilling. Also, similar to Avatar, the 3D visuals stay away from the gimmicky “throw stuff at you” tricks and works more to bring you into the story and add depth to the background.
I’ve never been a big believer in Dreamworks Animation movies. I seem to be one of the few who wasn’t a fan of the Shrek films. I always felt Shrek relied too much on double entendres and wink, wink, cleverness to appeal to the wide age range of ages, instead of telling a truly compelling story. Kung Fu Panda however was a step in the right direction. Overall, I typically prefer the movies coming out of Pixar over Dreamworks. With that in mind How to Train Your Dragon is a sure delight and fits in with the best of Pixar’s impressive run of delightful films. I’m very glad for this because I really want both studios to continue to do well and keep creating quality family films.
A thrilling visual feast, with likable characters and a compelling story makes this a must see movie for the whole family. Best film I’ve seen this year so far.
Geeklet Approval Rating: 10 & 13-year-old daughters both gave it 5 out of 5 stars. They loved it.
Rated PG: In theaters now.
Side note: Many dragon films have been made, most have been box office poison and almost all have not given the viewer adequate dragon time (Reign of Fire comes to mind, and still makes me mad). If a film centers around a dragon I want to see the thing a lot. If you’ve felt burned by this fact don’t dismay How to Train Your Dragon delivers dragons and then some.