REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon

4 04 2010

Ever since the dawn of full-length computer animated movies, Pixar has been the most reliable brand name in the business.  But in the past few years, DreamWorks Animation has been slowly gaining ground and clipping at their heels.  With each movie, they move closer and closer towards raising their game to the Pixar standard.

Their latest output, “How to Train Your Dragon,” isn’t quite at that level.  But the bright side is that it is one of Dreamworks’ best animated movies so far.

The story or the morals aren’t highly original, yet the movie still works and delights.  The hero, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), is a plucky youngster with a tiny frame.  In his Viking society, where bigger is better, that isn’t exactly a positive.  His father (a heavily accented Gerard Butler) has little faith in him, and the village doesn’t either as a result.

But this tiny little village has a big problem.  We like to think termites and ants are bad; they have to put up with dragons who terrorize their town, killing people and destroying houses.  The Vikings fight and kill the dragons, training the youth of the village to do the same.  But Hiccup has a different approach: he learns how to tame and train dragons after he rehabilitates one of the most dangerous species, which he affectionately names Toothless.  He then learns in a very Jake Sully-ian fashion that the creatures they had been treating with hostility could become great friends if they are treated with respect.

What really makes “How to Train Your Dragon” such moviegoing fun is the animation itself.  The dragons are so adorable, and they provide plenty of, “Awww, that’s so cute!” moments.  DreamWorks was smart to model them after the lovable qualities of dogs.  After seeing the movie, I came home and played with my dog more than I did after seeing “Marley & Me” – and that’s saying a lot.

More than just the characterization of the dragons, the movie succeeds because the soaring visuals are applied tastefully and purposefully.  Watching Hiccup jet through the air on Toothless is breathtaking, but it’s not overdone.  We aren’t subjected to flying montage after flying montage, nor does half the movie exist simply to show off the capabilities of the technology.  It’s cool, but DreamWorks has thankfully realized that a movie cannot succeed on visuals alone; the story must be the backbone.

Speaking of the story, it might bear a few resemblances to some movies you have seen (specifically “Avatar” for me).  I talk somewhat critically of it now, but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker in the theater.  It’s the kind of movie that’s so fun that you can overlook a few flaws.  I’m not expecting a Best Screenplay nomination, but it’s good enough.  And it provides a good moral that hasn’t been overused, so kudos to the writing team for finding that untapped virtue!

After my “Clash of the Titans” disaster, this was exactly the movie I needed to see in order to restore my faith in 3D.  It’s absolutely worth the extra $3 to amplify the experience of a movie that’s worth the other $10 to see.  B+ /



One response

15 01 2011

The dragon designs are wonderful, the action is exciting and the anti-warmongering message is timely and persuasive.

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