Friday, March 26, 2010

"How To Train Your Dragon" (2010)

The latest from DreamWorks Animation, "How to Train Your Dragon," is the first great animated feature of the year and extremely deserving of that title. Do yourself a favor and go see it in 3-D because it really cannot be viewed in any other way. It is the most brilliant use of the technology I have seen. In no way gimmicky, the swirling and eye-popping 3-D is used to amplify the visual and emotional potential the movie has to offer. The first moment when the young Viking, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), takes flight with his dragon, named Toothless, is one of visual wonderment and splendor. It evokes feelings comparable to even "Avatar." The textures, the artistry, it is all so, so gorgeous in many instances, and this is in large part thanks to Roger Deakins (talented live-action cinematographer for the likes of "No Country for Old Men") who worked was a visual consultant on the movie. This helps to make "How to Train Your Dragon" such a purely magical delight.

Hiccup lives among a population of Scottish-accented, tough-talking and brute-looking Vikings on the island of Berk where they're forced to deal with some large pests: dragons. At the movie's start, the island is under siege from a team of them setting the village aflame while Vikings grab shields, swing swords and launch catapults to thwart off their enemy. This is when we learn Hiccup isn't fit for this environment, and it doesn't help that the leader of the village, the massive and powerful Stoick (a growling Gerard Butler reliving his "300" days), is Hiccup's father. Slaying dragons is the common career since the Vikings have been fighting them off for generations. During this initial battle, Hiccup haphazardly launches a slingshot catapult and not only takes down a dragon but the most dangerous dragon that no Viking has ever laid eyes on. It's the Night Fury, only seen as a purple streak in the sky, and it is just one of a dozen different dragon species all of which are distinct, creative and colorful.

Hiccup finds the dragon in a secluded spot in the woods with a wounded tail preventing it from flying away. He tries to slay the dragon like his ancestry tells him, but he can't bring himself to follow through. Instead, he begins to interact with the dragon and soon realizes that everything the Vikings know, or think they know, about dragons is wrong. They can be tamed. Hiccup's connection with Toothless, with its cat-like, yellow eyes and black, slender body like a lizard, is never too sugary or sweet. It is challenging and ultimately tender. The details in the way the dragon moves, looks and reacts are all so finely nuanced that the moment where Hiccup first bonds with Toothless becomes the movie's most breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Their bond tightens when Hiccup fashions an artificial tail, provides bails of fish and saddles up to fly. Toothless is both ferocious and adorable, and the way Hiccup earns the dragon's trust is enchanting.

Back at the village, Stoick is openly disappointed and embarrassed of his son's lack of skills. While Stoick and the other Vikings head off in search for the dragons' nest, Hiccup and the other young Vikings begin their dragon slaying training under Cobber (voice of Craig Ferguson). The fellow trainees with Hiccup are a fun bunch including the voice talents of Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of "Superbad"), America Ferrara (of "Ugly Betty") and Kristen Wiig (of "Whip It"). Wiig is the voice of Hiccup's interest, and they have a charming love-hate relationship. Their training sequences reminded me greatly of the "Harry Potter" series whenever the wizarding students fended off against dragons. It's here when Hiccup's skills with dragons shine but not in the way the Vikings would hope. While he is the first Viking to ever ride a dragon, he is also the first to be against slaying one.

Similar to the one created in 2008's "Kung Fu Panda," the environment here is rich, alive and feels like something pulled out of a classic fairy tale. It's no Pandora, but when those mountainous tops are standing atop the mist in the distance, you can't help but recall "Avatar." A soaring musical score from John Powell accompanies the exciting and fast pace of "How to Train Your Dragon," and while the story could be considered conventional, there is power in the simplicity of a boy and his dragon. Hiccup is an endearing main character because he is so nice, likable and easy to root for, and Toothless is just as lovable. The way this heartwarming story is packaged and delivered is what makes it so exceptional.


  1. Really? 4 stars? You hand them out like its candy!!

  2. Haha, OK, sometimes I feel like I do, too, but honestly, "How to Train Your Dragon" really deserved it! Great stuff.

  3. 4 stars. at least! sharp visuals, great characters and an engaging story. the review reads well. well done on this one.