I have been a fan of the Dragon for years. Without a doubt, it is my favorite magical/mythical/fantastical beastie. From books like Anne McCafferey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (1968) and Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons (1990), to Universal’s film Dragonheart (1996), I love Dragon stories. However, I’m also extremely picky about them. I do not care for either the book or film incarnation of the WAY-overrated Eragon (2006), nor the various attempts at modern-day Dragons, such as Reign of Fire (2002) or the pathetic Dragon Wars (2007). So, needless to say, going into How To Train Your Dragon, I had several reservations, but also very high hopes.
My hopes were not only reached, but surpassed. I believe that this may be the best Dreamworks animated feature yet.
The story is not a particularly new one, but the presentation is absolutely delightful. It would have been very easy to make the premise cheesy, to execute the sequences in a campy, predictable way, and yet the story works, the animation is stunning and the characters bond in very real, while also unexpected ways. Furthermore, the film didn’t strongly remind me of any specific Dragon story I’d already seen or read. It borrowed certian elements, sure, but no more than its predecessors did from other sources. It’s a buddy movie at heart, between a boy and his pet. But, again, the way in which it’s told is unique, with characters both at the center and on the sidelines that stand on their own – and well.
The characters, too, are definitely the driving force of the film. They are extremely endearing and delightful, particularly Gobber (Hiccup’s mentor) the other teens during the Dragon Training sequences. Their dialogue is fantastic throughout the movie (i.e. “Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile”). Some of the best lines are spoken in the background, easy to miss, as the action moves away from the characters speaking them, but they’re hilarious (i.e. “Oh, I am hurt! I am very much hurt!”). Meanwhile, other moments work so wonderfully well because of the lack of dialogue. It seems to be becoming a Hollywood trend to do this — noticeably so since Pixar’s WALL-E — but it’s being put to good use, and that’s what matters, right?
Probably the best moment in the entire film, and a good example of the use of holding back on dialogue is the scene featured in one of the posters (my personalfavorite from the ad campaign), when the connection is solidifiedbetween Hiccup and Toothless, which preceeds the montage that leads to their eventual adventures into flight. The first scene builds slowly, helped greatly by the musical score, which works wonders throughout the film (I must have this soundtrack). It starts with Hiccup making a cautious entrance into the valley where the Dragon currently resides, and concludes, poignantly, on the gesture of his palm out, towardthe Dragon. The image conveys so strongly the idea of trust and faith, without a single word spoken. The moment is pure magic.
As is most of the movie. Of course, the animation is splendid and not just because of the breathtaking flight sequences, but also because of how real Toothless is. He is like a dog, like a cat, and like no household pet we can imagine. He’s adorable and fearsome and real. The Dragon is as much an active character and believable personality as Hiccup, which is significant and necessary to make the film work.
Still, “the reason it deserves to be seen in a theater with special glasses on, rather than slapped on the DVD player when the children are acting up —lies in those airborne sequences.” –A.O. Scott, The New York Times (full article). It absolutely should be seen on the big screen and in 3D if you can manage it. Definitely worth the experience.
So, needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed. Plus it’s about time there was another decent Dragon movie out there. More than anything else, the movie that leaves you smiling, feeling totally uplifted. Great story, great animation, great movie.