Reviews: How To Train Your Dragon
Guys, I got this great Dreamworks pitch
Get this. First, we have an island with vikings on it. Then, we get dragons. Oh, no, we're not done yet. Now we get vikings riding dragons! Our main character is going to be a snarky wannabe viking who gains control of the most powerful dragon EVAR and kicks everyone's ass. End result: profit. ...Let's see, does that do it? I seem to have gotten everything from the random Dreamworks script generator except "pop-culture references that will be dated in three years" and "hire famous actors to say three lines". This isn't a premise that inspires confidence. It sounds like part of an elaborate plan to plunge us back into the Animation Age Ghetto. And yet, amazingly enough, it works. Any trailers you saw implying this was just more kid-friendly-schleck was deliberately misleading you. Let's start with our lead, Hiccup. A Mary Sue insert this kid ain't. Is he snarky? Yes. But not because he's cool- because it's all he's got. He's a small, spindly, clumsy kid who screws things up. Indeed, the whole premise (he shoots down a Night Fury) is played off as absurdly improbable, and we can't blame the other vikings for not believing him. What's more than that is the Night Fury, Toothless. He doesn't buckle under Hiccup's mighty wit and strength. He's hostile to Hiccup for much of the movie before Hiccup earns his trust via friendship. Yes, earns- this work may use All Animals Are Domesticated, but it does not do so egregiously. This process is not blazed through via montage or a Hand Wave about the two being "mentally connected- rather, it uses an extended character piece that really hits home. Even secondary characters have strong qualities about them. Astrid, far from being a pliant female lead, is her own character, far quicker to mistrust Hiccup than worship him. Hiccup's Viking dad, even though he provides much of the conflict, is shown as someone making the best decisions he can with the information he has. It's refreshing to see an animated movie that not only says die, but admits that sometimes, it may be justified. Overall, this movie is highly recommended, and is the easy front-runner for Best Animated Feature this year. Note that this review only covers the 2D version.
If I could relive any experience...
...it would be my second time watching this film. See, the first time the audience was composed of youngsters with their parents, who didn't get much of the jokes or story and pretty were here just for the sake of going to movies. That viewing was pretty quiet, with only two laughs and some polite applause at the end, but otherwise dead silence. Additionally, the first time watching this film I was evaluating it. Its 98% on Rotten Tomatoes surprised me, so I was critiquing it to see if it was worth of such a nearly perfect score. Since I could recognize such much of the plot devices, I concluded it was alright, but nothing spectacular. But then for the next year I saw the response of the Internet. The hordes of Deviant Art work painting beautiful interpretations of the characters. The rewatching of clips from this film and finding the cinematography and music uses. The analyses on this very page suggesting a deep and meaningful narrative. From that my mind was re-widened. Could it have been a better film than I thought? On the second viewing, it was a riot. Everyone was laughing the whole time at the jokes and gags now, yet were in awe at the spectacle on the screen. There was tangible tension in the air when the story climaxes arose, and real appreciation and feeling at the more heartfelt moments. Everyone loved it. It was exactly what a film viewing should be. Oh, right, umm, the review. Well, what sold me the first time on HTTYD was Astrid's portrayal. I liked that she was shown as someone who genuinely wanted to be a great fighter and thus had a true motive, rather than being a token "girl who is tough". While most cliched works would have Astrid turn seductive once Hiccup turned "the dragon fighter", here she tried to compete against him, was mad when he stole her spotlight, and didn't have an interest in being anyone's girlfriend. That independence was refreshing, and made it more believable when she chose to accept Hiccup in the end. The second time let me see how the film set up its own story better. The tropes used were recognizable, but the film actually put thought in how it used them, rather than just lazy writing. For a year with many amazing animated films, this one was a worthy addition.
Did I miss something? Episode 2
Like my review of Monsters vs. Aliens this is another movie that I think would have been more enjoyable in 3D. The visuals were already pretty decent, 3D would have made it that much more spectacular. Otherwise that plot doesn't hold up too well. The story focuses on the a young Viking (prince?) named Hiccup. He's kind of a weakling and he spends the early half of the movie wanting to become a dragon fighter to make his father, the leader (king?) of the Vikings, proud. He successfully shoots down one of the most powerful and mysterious dragons known in their lore, the Night Fury. He has the opportunity to slay the dragon while its down but instead decides to train and rehabilitate the creature. This changes his outlook on killing dragons, just as his father was warming up to the idea him being a dragon slayer. Hiccup is an interesting case to say the least, he's not an example of the "cool loser" trope but his character still manages to be kind of a cliche "I'm different" sort of guy. I was irritated by his snarky use of sarcasm and his nasally voice. "Yeah movie we get it, this isn't your traditional viking kid... ha ha ha". The movie focuses mostly on him while introducing a few others who are mostly stock characters. The tough "jock", the action girl love interest, a D & D nerd set in the ideal timeframe, and a set of fraternal twins who constantly bicker with each other. This isn't a bad movie. The message is good, and as I said the visual were even impressive in 2D. I just found it lacking when observing the plot alone. There were a few surprises that I won't spoil for you (even though it would be a late spoiler), where I'm surprised the film would actually go THERE (towards the end). If you're a big viking or dragons fan, go see this movie. If you have a 3D tv go see this movie. Otherwise it doesn't live up to the hype.
Good, but not outstanding
This movie was a little bit unexpected coming from DreamWorks...no pop-cultural jokes, some really thoughtful moments, a decent story...and since it was so unexpected, I think it is a little bit easy to overlook some of the problems this movies has. When it is good, it is really good, especially when it pushes the envelope a little bit. The problem starts when it doesn't push the envelope, when it adds an unnecessary romance, goes for the predictable story-line for the father son relationship or the easy solution. Then there are some technical weaknesses, like the useless voice-over and the somewhat annoying voice of Hiccup (thankfully the character works nevertheless, but in the first five minutes or so he reminded me strongly of Taran from The Black Cauldron - never shuts up and has ideas of grandeur). The animation is sometimes beautiful, the dragons very creative, but I have some problems with the character design. CGI is a little bit tricky...on the one hand, it shouldn't look too realistic, but on the other hand, it tends to look a little bit cheap when it is too cartoony. This is a little bit too much on the cartoony side for my taste, especially when it comes to the movement of the beard hairs. The hair in general tends to look very stiff. All in all, this is a decent movie, but nothing more. I would put it on a level with movies like Fox and the Hound or Cars, movies which have their problems, but are still easy to love because when they are good, they are really really good. How to Train your Dragon is especially good in the interaction between Hiccup and Toothless. So good that it is easy to overlook its weaknesses.
Thank you Dreamworks
I've ripped on Dreamworks for using gags that were crawling rather than running and leading an "okay"-parade after the succes of the first few Shrek movies (aside from the ones with Aardman), but I really love this one and hope there'll be more like it. It looks great, of course. Every design helps the world with it's identity. The dragons make sense as animals and the expressions work, but what really makes this movie is that it actually has a story and characters to care for and treats themes like 'family' and 'being different' without ever seeming forced, repetitive or narmful, even to a cynic like me. If you believe Dreamworks ran out of steam, watch this. Otherwise I assume I didn't have to tell you to.
Most awesome movie of the year.
You might say that How to Train Your Dragon is just another Hero's Journey story, and you'd be right, but then again so was Star Wars. What How to Train Your Dragon is, is awesome, it is like they asked themselves while creating each scene, "How can we make this more awesome?" It worked. I've only had two movies effect me this much. The first was Ratatouille, every scene I seemed to be saying, "It's beautiful." With How to Train Your Dragon it was, "It's awesome." Hiccup, on the other hand, is curious about the Night Fury, it just happens that the Night Fury is a little curious about him too. Forbidden Friendship is the most awesome first contact scene ever. Hiccup wasn't reaching his hand out to an herbivore, but a top predator. Looking away and holding out his hand was a true act of faith, because he didn't know if he'd ever get that hand back. Was Toothless domesticated? Don't make me laugh. Tamed? Not hardly. They became friends because Toothless decided to be Hiccups friend, not the other way around. The climax is more awesome then the average movie-goer can comprehend. When the Red Death came out I was actually surprised there were no cries of Ragnarok, the end of the world, from some of the Vikings. The thing that comes to mind in their mythology that matches the Red Death is Jormungandr, the Midgard serpent, which Thor will fight at the end of the world. Thor doesn't survive that battle. That little conversation between Stoic and Hiccup on the edge of the sea means a whole lot more when put in that kind of context. To go up against the Red Death didn't take balls of steel, but weapons-grade plutonium. Taking off to fight put Hiccup and Toothless into the realm of legendary Viking. They'd have to invent the opera format just to do their legend justice. That Stoic was surprised that Hiccup was alive wasn't surprising. That the Dreamworks team had the guts to give Hiccup a permanent injury is another bit of awesomeness that just won't get the due it is worth. There are a lot of injured veterans out there, and I really feel it honors them for the sacrifice they have made. You don't fight something a hundred times bigger then yourself, alone and come out unscathed.