April 9, 2010

REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon

What do you get when you combine animated Vikings, dragons, aerial battles, and just enough age-appropriate romance? Answer: How to Train Your Dragon, a film that is charming, touching, and certainly not just for kids (in fact, it's rather violent, if not explicitly so).

The movie (based on the book), follows Hiccup, the unbrawney son of a tribal leader in a mythical viking village. Because he fails to meet the usual viking standards of success (e.g. gigantic pecs and blood thirsty courage), Hiccup is marginalized, yet resolute on winning the community's acceptance by participating in its most honored past-time: fighting dragons. With a keen interest in design, be builds a bolas-launcher and captures a dragon, keeping it in secret and discovering that almost everything the Vikings know about dragons is wrong.

HtTYD is a major success for DreamWorks Animation, a company that is consistently dominated by Pixar and has failed to produce much of value beyond the Shrek dynasty. Getting away from its usual light, childish, and cuddly-animal-filled movies, HtTYD demonstrates DreamWork's ability to tackle human emotions and bring human characters to life on screen. The part that I found most enjoyable about the film was the simple exploration of the Viking world as we follow Hiccup's discoveries. At times it reminded me of Avatar, but was much more effortless in the execution.

The three minor shortcomings of the film I found were a lack of comedy (save perhaps for the helmet scene), odd visual angles at times, and bits of flat dialogue (e.g. "You just gestured to all of me"). HtTYD easily makes up for these and more in its potent and non-preachy handling of big issues like ignorance, curiosity, acceptance, and disability -- the last one's treatment turning HtTYD from a simply good movie to a great one.

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