Monday, February 14, 2011

Movie Review: "How To Train Your Dragon" (2010)

At first, I was tempted to review this film as a cynical adult; that's not just my duty, since I'm writing this review (presumably) for other similarly-cynical adults, it's also really the only way I can approach films anymore. I can't go back to the innocent days of yore, when anything with a dragon in it was considered praiseworthy. But I feel that writing this film off simply because it doesn't try anything new in the story department would be giving it short shrift.

How To Train Your Dragon never really attempts anything revolutionary, doesn't throw the audience any curveballs, but what it does, it does well. The animation is top-notch, and numerous times during the flight segments I was struck by an intense desire to see it in either 3D or IMAX. Both, if possible. Alas, the movie is several months old now, and the moment has passed. So it goes.

The story follows Hiccup, a young teen with an American accent in a small island village of Scottish-speaking Viking warriors. For some reason, the difference in accent is never brought up; in fact, all the kids in the village have distinctly American speech patterns. Maybe you need to get a permit for your brogue, to show you can handle the responsibility?

Hiccup is a scrawny, skinny boy, which is a common feature of YA protagonists, but somewhat unusual in a blacksmith's apprentice. His father, Stoic the Vast (voiced, appropriately enough, by Gerard Butler, that bearded Scotsman of 300 fame) is the chief of their village, which is pillaged on a near-nightly basis by marauding dragons.

During one of these raids, Hiccup is trying out a net-launching apparatus of his own design, when he gets off a lucky shot and snags a Night Fury, a mysterious black-scaled subspecies of dragon with incredible speed and firepower. Naturally, no one believes that such a loser kid could catch a dragon that no one's ever seen and lived to tell the tale. So Hiccup sets off into the woods to find his rightful kill.

... Only he finds that, when the dragon is lying helpless before him, he can't bring himself to kill it. He sets it free, but it's been too badly injured by his net to leave the box canyon where it fell. Thus begins a tale of friendship, prejudice, war, personal growth, and teamwork.

The dragon, "Toothless", is an impressive feat of CGI. He's tough and weighty without being bulky, powerful without being scary, and a weird fusion of reptile, bird, and dog. Best of all, he remains a convincing animal throughout the film. By this, I mean that the animators and writers never lose sight of his animal nature; even though he's friendly, he's not all sunshine and roses.

It's a fun story. It's funny. It's touching. It's even a little bit romantic (if you like girls who like punching boys). I'd say that it's worth buying a copy for your kids. Even if you don't have kids, you might want to check it out. You might find that what appeared at first to be distasteful is actually a lot of fun.

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