How to Train Your Dragon
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Surprisingly charming, and unexpectedly above average, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders‘ “How to Train Your Dragon” is one of those family films that may actually manage to be remembered. In a world of hyperactive, studio-driven, 3-D CGI corporate products, it’s nice to see a film that, while certainly not free of some of the action-heavy hyperactivity of its peers (the film’s climax is, predictably, a gigantic fight scene, snore), is at least affable, halfway clever, more than a bit funny, and somewhat atmospheric. I enjoyed “How to Train Your Dragon.”
12th century Iceland, in a village of vikings. A young boy named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), is an engineer among barbarians, preferring to tinker in the shop than drink mead, and slay the dragons that plague his small island. Hiccup dreams of becoming a rough-and-tumble fighter like his father Stoick (Gerard Butler), his friend Gobber (Craig Ferguson), and his crush Astrid (America Ferrera), but hasn’t the chutzpah nor the skill to actually slay a fire-breather with his own hands. His father, in a last ditch effort to make a MAN out of his son, enrolls him in Gobber’s Dragon Slaying School.
One day, Hiccup manages to find an injured dragon in the woods and, rather than slaying it, studies it, and, eventually, befriends it, builds an appliance to help it fly again, pets it, feeds it, and gives it a name, Toothless. Toothless moves and acts like a big, precocious kitty, and is both threatening and cute, with eyes that can move from friendly to menacing. Hiccup’s patience and understanding of the dragon allows him to tame the dragons in his classes, and earns him a reputation.
A complaint I have about most CGI is that, while it can certainly create entire elaborate backgrounds, it has still been unable to create any real atmosphere; most CGI “environments” are not environments at all, but mere visually complex dioramas. You can use 3-D glasses all you like, and coat your CGI in the cutting-edgiest of realistic skin technology, but to me it still looks… off. Something is decidedly false about the proceedings. “How to Train Your Dragon” comes close to bucking this; at any rate, the atmospheres are not distracting. The characters moved in an appealing way, rather than a too-quick jerky fashion, and the character design was immensely appealing, especially on the teenage main characters.
It was also nice to see an animated fantasy film that takes place in a real time and location; 12th century Iceland was a real place, unlike, say Middle-Earth, and vikings were a real class of people. O.k. So it wasn’t an historically accurate document of the time, what with the dragons and all, but it didn’t seem to be too seriously fudging history.
The film’s climax is, as I said, a drawn-out action spectacular, and I wish that more contemporary animated films would be resolved without the need for some gigantic battle, but it doesn’t ruin “how to Train Your Dragon” by any means. In fact, I could see this film being remembered fondly by the ten-year-olds of today as something they loved, and are eager to see again once they turn 30.