Pros: Its a better than usual Dreamworks piece with top notch animation and storytelling
Cons: Not Long Enough!
The stellar box office performance of How To Train Your Dragon probably means it doesn’t need a recommendation from lil ole me for those of you with kids to purchase or rent the DVD. Interestingly for a film of this type it wasn’t a huge hit straight away, it opened solidly but then kept building and building until it was the number one movie at the box office this past spring. This is probably due to the fact that for a Dreamworks animation movie, How to Train Your Dragon is very good approaching awesome and the word of mouth spread. Its also possible that some of you without kids who were not forced to see it, wrote this film off as another in a long line of quick cash grabs by Dreamworks.
The story follows teenage Viking Hiccup who lives in a cliff top village with his father as a weapon master of some sort whilst the other Vikings fend off the biggest menace to their way of life, dragons. The village’s livestock is constantly under threat from many different species of dragon who constantly attack the village. The youngsters are trained in their teens how to slay dragons but Hiccup just doesn’t fit in no matter how hard he tries and is forced to stay in the tool shed, he is hopeless and causes more harm than good. He is a source of constant embarrassment to his father and source of amusement to the rest of the village. One day after causing a scene in the village during a dragon attack, Hiccup goes off into the forest to locate the ‘night wing’ dragon that he may have brought down. Nobody has ever brought down a night wing and the local guide advises people to run for their lives rather than try and take one on. He finds the creature wounded but alive and helps it, he finds that the creature is far more intelligent and gentler than the guides and other Vikings would have you believe. A bond is formed between Hiccup and the creature and he learns a lot about dragons which he then uses to his advantage in the village to become a hero. Of course its not long before his new friend is threatened by the inhabitants of the village and Hiccup is faced with a difficult choice.
Dreamworks previous animated output like the Shrek movies, Shark Tale and Madagascar has always felt very shallow and contrived. The pop culture referencing jokes in them will date them far quicker than any advances in 3D animation. People are still watching the Disney classics made in the 1950’s and yet they contain no references to television shows or the politics of the day. Pixar also never does this and is consistently producing great pieces of work which favor character and story over flashy needless 3D and throw it all at the wall and see what sticks type humor. Kung Fu Panda was the first movie by Dreamworks to break the mould and was a solid entertaining flick that was far better than all of their previous efforts combined. How To Train Your Dragon goes one further and may actually be a classic kids movie that appeals to adults as well. It is on a par with the best of Pixar’s work (except Wall-E) and I wouldn’t be surprised if it nabs the best animation Oscar from under Toy Story 3’s nose next year.
Dragon’s have never been treated that well by Hollywood but in this movie you get several species of dragon all very unique and well designed. Some are goofy, some are sleek and cat like and some are the size of a mountain. The flying scenes are exhilarating and beautifully done. I didn’t catch this in IMAX 3D and I’m gutted because these scenes must have been breathtaking. For a kids film How To Train Your Dragon also isn’t scared to present death and mortality as something that exists and is entirely possible. Towards the end of the movie it really looks like nobody is safe and the large mountain like dragon at the climax clearly wipes out a whole swathe of Vikings. The eventual fate of Hiccup will also surprise you, it took me by surprise that’s for sure. I cant remember a piece of family entertainment before or since The Empire Strikes Back that actually went ‘there’, and no the dragon doesn’t turn out to be Hiccups father. Aside from the impressive visuals, the film is also a very touching tale of friendship with a simple message about being true to yourself. The night wing dragon who Hiccup names Toothless is like a big flying cat and manages to be cute was well as something fierce, it walks a fine line but never trips over into schmaltz. The voice cast is made up of names that although known names are not megastars (Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill etc) and this helps the film because its not all about a star like Mike Myers or Will Smith bringing their schtick to an animated character.
So the point is if you have written off this movie based on Dreamworks previous track record then think again. How To Train Your Dragon is a brilliant tale of friendship that is beautifully told.