Friday, August 28, 2015

How to Train Your Dragon Review

On a very long flight overseas during the summer of 2010, I got to watch a couple of movies that were no longer in theaters, but not yet on home video. Among these was How to Train Your Dragon (2010). It was such a delightfully fun movie that it made me forget that I was tightly crammed into a flying metal tube with a hundred other people being flung across an ocean. It is easily my favorite Dreamworks movie to date.
Long ago up North on the Island of Berk, the young Viking, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), wants to join his town's fight against the dragons that continually raid their town. However, his stubborn father and village leader, Stoik the Vast (Gerard Butler), 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.
After a number of mediocre Dreamworks movies released over the previous couple of years, How to Train Your Dragon was an unexpectedly delightful change of pace. The characters were fantastic, the story was interesting, the theme was wonderful, the animation was stellar. That's quite a step up from titles like Bee Movie and Shrek the Third.
Hiccup is a fish out of water. He's not the big, burly, aggressive type that virtually everyone in village is. He's small, skinny, has a deadpan, sarcastic sense of humor, and tends to be resourceful instead of forceful. He resorts to constructing gizmos to help him achieve the same physical feats his fellow villagers do, but his intuition isn't appreciated. Stoick is a fierce, immensely strong and utterly fearless warrior. He's also very stubborn and seems to think the world should work according to the way he perceives it. He's a character with which we can identify, but not one that is easy to love initially. Needless to say, Hiccup and Stoick don't see eye-to-eye.
Then there is Toothless. Toothless may be a dragon, but he's possibly the most endearing character in the movie. The way he moves is a lot like a playful cat. He has highly expressive yellow eyes that contrast his black color beautifully and help illustrate the many facial expressions Toothless has. The sounds he makes are adorable, but ferocious when they need to be. The sounds used to voice Toothless are a combination of Supervising Sound Designer Randy Thom, elephant Seals, elephants, horses, tigers, and domestic cats. There is a very important quality to the Toothless character that is missing from so many of Hollywood's contemporary animated characters; an air of mystery. This isn't just a funny animal sidekick, he's a major character in the movie who plays a significant part in the plot's development.
The story and theme were delightful. It's a bit fast paced as it is primarily aimed at children with short attention spans. Nevertheless, it features an invigorating coming-of-age story of surprising depth paired with a sweetly poignant tale of friendship between man and animal. It delves into the ideas of empathy and taking the initiative to learn about what you don't understand so as to peacefully coexist. If we take our initial impressions of others as objective fact, it causes us to be shortsighted, intolerant, and even hostile against those we don't understand. Thematically, this is similar to both Frozen and ParaNorman, though How to Train Your Dragon has its own take on interpersonal conflict that should not be overlooked.
The animation is top notch. The texture of skin, clothing, dragon scales, water, and everything else looked amazing. I've already mentioned the charming way Toothless moved, but every character moved in a way that was cartoonish enough to be funny, but not so wacky as to be unrealistic. The camera work was phenomenal as well. How to Train Your Dragon has some of the best action sequences I've seen in a CGI animated film. Everything from the angle of the shot to the speed of the editing projects an end visual that feels like you're either riding on Toothless' back or you get an outsider perspective on just how fast he's flying. It's positively brilliant.
How to Train Your Dragon is easily the best Dreamworks animated feature to date, and possibly one of the best dragon movies ever made. It boasts dazzling animation and a script with a surprising dramatic depth which mixes comedic and touching moments. Instead of relying on dizzying gimmicks, this movie revels in sheer heart-pumping pleasure of watching action unfold and lets us genuinely enjoy some charming characters. It's take on the message about tolerance and realizing your enemy may not be as different as you think puts it in a higher quality bracket than other CGI animated films. I love this movie. I've been telling myself for years to get my own copy; this is absolutely worth having in your own home collection.

What is the best dragon movie you've ever seen? Comment below and tell me why!

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