Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: How to Train Your Dragon


TRASH IN MY EYE No. 18 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – animated
Running time: 98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA – PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language
DIRECTOR: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
WRITERS: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, Adam F. Goldberg, and Peter Tolan (based upon the book by Cressida Cowell
PRODUCER: Bonnie Arnold
EDITOR: Maryann Brandon
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Kathy Altieri
ART DIRECTOR: Pierre-Olivier Vincent

ANIMATION/FANTASY/ACTION/ADVENTURE
Starring: (voice) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig

The latest computer-animated (or 3D animation) film from DreamWorks Animation, How to Train Your Dragon, really does reach new heights. This story about a boy and his dragon will take the viewer soaring across the sky through cloud banks and far into the atmosphere. The audience will follow the two as they streak across the ocean and over, around, and through islands and outcroppings. For over a century, cinema has shown us humans riding into the sky on winged horses, magic carpets, giant birds, etc., but never has movie flight felt so thrilling as it does here on the back on a young dragon.

How to Train Your Dragon is set on the island of Berk, a Viking settlement where the Vikings have been fighting dragons since the settlers arrived on Berk. The story’s hero is a Viking teenager named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of Viking chieftain, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Hiccup’s smarts and offbeat sense of humor don’t sit too well with his tribe or his father because fighting dragons is their way of life – not humor.

The beanpole-thin Hiccup is not strong, nor is he built like other Vikings, but still he is included in Dragon Training with the other Viking teens. Hiccup sees this as his chance to prove he has what it takes to be a fighter. When he encounters an injured dragon, one of the dreaded breed know as the Night Fury, Hiccup’s world is flipped upside down. He eventually befriends the dragon, whom he names “Toothless,” and helps the creature when he discovers that half of Toothless’ tail wing has been ripped off, grounding him. What started out as Hiccup’s one shot to prove himself as a Viking dragon slayer turns into an opportunity to set a new course for the future of Hiccup’s entire tribe.

There is a lot about How to Train Your Dragon that can be praised, but the film does have its problems. Most of the characters are dull, flat, and uninteresting. Even Hiccup’s father, Stoick, large and fearsome as he is, really doesn’t generated dramatic heat, and Gerard Butler’s voice performance doesn’t make the character better. The character, Gobber, who acts as comic relief and is voiced by late-night talk show host, Craig Ferguson, is tepid. The story isn’t bad, but it is slight; there isn’t the dramatic weight here that one would get from a Pixar movie. In fact, the first quarter hour or so of this film presaged a cinematic bomb. Then, Hiccup and Toothless kick things off.

What makes How to Train Your Dragon fantastic is its star duo. The depth, back story, conflict, and motivation missing from the other characters are abundant in Hiccup. His need to be accepted by his tribe, especially his father, versus his penchant for investigating and challenging the consensus, the status quo, and conventional thinking is the dramatic backbone of this film.

Hiccup’s dragon buddy, Toothless, is simply a great animated character. He doesn’t speak, but his personality and character come through the expressiveness of his face and the vivid nature of his body in motion. In an animated film – 2D or 3D, the art of animation is indeed the illusion of life, as seen in the animated character. Gabe Hordos, the supervising animator of Toothless, and his staff have executed a grand magical spell in bringing Toothless to life.

How to Train Your Dragon shows the audience the evolution of a boy from outcast teen to acknowledged hero. The film offers an impish, playful cartoon creature possessing the best human qualities. Together boy and dragon take us on a journey of self-discovery and maturity, and How to Train Your Dragon will take the audience on an aerial adventure that sometimes rivals the high-flying action of James Cameron’s Avatar. That is more than enough to make up for this film’s faults.

8 of 10
A

Monday, March 29, 2010

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