Monday, March 29, 2010

Training Dragons...

I wasn't sure what to expect of the Dreamworks release How To Train Your Dragon (in 3D), but I got something better than I hoped. When I saw the previews I wasn't expecting a whole bunch, but I suppose I should have raised my expections. This is Dreamworks, after all, not one of the other creators of animated fare not named Disney.

I don't know why I doubt Dreamworks. Like Pixar, they seem to produce winners every time out. I'm not putting them at the same level as Pixar, but they are definitely a cut above the other studios. (For example, they showed two previews of animated films coming out later this year, can't recall the titles, maybe one was called Despicable Me, and the other was about guardian owls. Both looked pretty lame to me. Neither looked like it would hold a candle to either of these studios' releases, and that's from the previews, which supposedly show highlights that make you want to go see the picture.) Dreamworks' films always seem to work both for my kids and for me.

How To Train Your Dragon tells the tale of a young Viking boy named Hiccup, who just doesn't seem to fit in. He's a little too intellectual for Viking activities, most of which involve saving the village from marauding dragons. Whenever Hiccup gets involved, things seem to go wrong.

Hiccup has developed something he thinks will help - a sort of "cannon" that shoots out a weapon that can tangle the dragon and bring it down. He sneaks out, uses it on the dragon called a "Night Fury", one that is particularly devastating and has never really been seen. Hiccup doesn't exactly see it, but he sees something - and he fires his cannon at it, and hits it.

But then things go wrong and no one believes that he's hit a dragon. So he searches for it by himself, and finally finds it, and it IS a Night Fury. It's all tangled up in the thing Hiccup fired at it, and it seems resigned to its fate of being killed by Hiccup. But the boy can't do it. Instead he cuts the dragon loose.

And instead of killing Hiccup, the dragon tries to fly away. But he's injured, and can't fly. Hiccup figures out why, fixes it, and then trains the dragon. He learns about the dragons, and realizes that everything they know about the beasts is wrong!

Meanwhile, he's trying to win the girl (Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera), who is the toughest of the Vikings in training. And he's trying to impress his father, Stoick the Vast, who also happens to be the leader of their colony.

It's a story of compassion, of brains winning out over brawn, and of looking beyond the surface, and it works. The 3D animation was very well done, and gave the movie an extra punch that it may lack in traditional 2D animation. But the storytelling is strong enough to carry this picture. It doesn't rank up there with UP! or WALL*E, or The Princess and the Frog , but it works on the levels it is supposed to work on, and is a worthy addition to a catalog that includes fine animated movies like Shrek, Madagascar, and Over The Hedge. I don't know how much input Jeffrey Katzenberg has into these film projects, but it makes you wonder what Disney animation would have been like if he had been permitted to stick around there.



Brian said...

I totally agree. I had no interest after seeing the trailer, but it became a must-see after I found out the minds behind Lilo and Stitch were behind it. I didn't regret it. Great stuff. Keep up the good work!
Brian (twitter brresler)

Scott said...

Thank you for commenting! And for reading! I didn't realize the Disney connection until I read the Time Magazine review yesterday.