Posted on 3/29/10 12:49 AM
After all the mediocre animated films that have come out in the past couple of years (with the exception of such treats as Up and Wall-E) there's a refreshing purity to How To Train Your Dragon.
Not only does Dragon bypass stupid fart jokes and pratfalls in favor of a more genuine kind of humor, but it has enough confidence in itself to not be topical. You won't find any forced and tired pop-culture references here.
How To Train Your Dragon is set in the mythical world of big, beefy Vikings and wild dragons of every type. Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, this movie tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn't fit in with his people's tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup's uncanny ability to invent devices and tools becomes his only hope of fitting in, but his world is rocked when one of his inventions wounds a legendary dragon. Believing he's made his first kill, Hiccup sets off to find the body only to discover that the wounded dragon is still alive. What he does then challenges both him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from a different point of view. Together, Hiccup and Toothless (the wounded dragon) begin a relationship that will change both of their worlds forever.
Some have commented that Toothless is reminiscent of Disney's Stitch character and while Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders are the creators of Lilo & Stitch - I really don't think this was their intention.
If you look at a side by side comparison I sort of see what they mean. But the elements that make them similar are also universal constants when it comes to making a creature cute and appealing, i.e. large, dark eyes and a big roundish head. Other than some shape similarities and maybe his teeth, Toothless is a unique creation -- and a lovable one.
There are times when Dragon reminded me of Lilo & Stitch but I was also reminded of E.T. and Kung Fu Panda and Black Beauty - and more than once - Avatar.
What's important to remember is that I thought of these things after I saw the movie - because while I watched, I thought of nothing else.
How To Train Your Dragon has real moments of heart and emotion with a surprising level of depth.
There's a scene when Hiccup gets close to Toothless for the first time and you can see him fighting every instinct he has to run away in fear but instead he puts out his hand - not knowing what will happen.
You feel how conflicted he is but then there's this profound realization that Toothless is just as conflicted but in a more black and white, child-like way.
It's an incredibly effective and emotional scene.
If I had to change anything about Dragon it would be more addition than subtraction.
I would have liked to have a deeper understanding of the dragon's inter-relationships, and I would have liked a clearer understanding of the history between Vikings and Dragons. I also felt that the final act was a little rushed and would not have minded it being a bit longer.
Even though I cringed at some of the awkward moments between Hiccup and his father, I thought they could have pushed the conflict a little harder for greater impact. But I also recognize that could have been too much for the younger ones in the audience.
I won't say Dragon is a "perfect" movie but it belongs among the ranks of Up and Wall-E and easily outshines both in terms of adventure and heart. The flying scenes alone are as euphoric and mesmerizing as Avatar and the emotional sophistication will surprise and delight you.
About halfway through How To Train Your Dragon I discovered that I trusted this movie to not screw up. It's sad but all too often I've sat in a film that seemed to be doing everything right, only to have it come crashing down in the final act.
I'm sure many of you are familiar with that nagging sensation that the wonderful film you're watching is about to blow it at any minute and crush all your hopes for it.
All too often - we're right.
I know I'll see Dragon again but while I'd like to see it in 2D to concentrate more on the story, I'm loathe to deprive myself of the joyful flying scenes in all their 3D magic.
More than anything else I found myself lost in the moment and remembering what it felt like to be a kid.
It's stories like this that made me fall in love with movies as a kid, and I haven't been able to say that in a while.