How to Train Your Dragon: Delivering Plasma Fire Balls that Warm the Heart

20 04 2010

Based off Cressida Cowell’s book of the same title, How to Train Your Dragon is the latest DreamWorks Animation film to hit theatres. In both 3D and 2D formats, the film has been doing remarkably well at the box office, even coming close to beating out this week’s new release, Kick-Ass. Here’s the breakdown:

Hiccup, the awkward and clumsy son of a Viking chief, must learn to slay dragons in order to become a respected member of the clan. But when he meets a wounded dragon in the forest, he soon realizes there are more to these fearsome beasts than he originally thought.

The Monkey: The animation was striking. Distinctly not Disney and not Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon succeeds in creating an animation style all its own. From outrageous character designs to even more outrageous dragon designs, the movie was a visual treat at every turn. And while it may be a small detail, the beards and hair of the characters looked so real! This was a great juxtaposition against the obviously exaggerated and cartoonish animation designs.

The movie’s use of 3D was well executed; not overly in your face, yet thrilling enough to feel justified for paying a few extra bucks. Most noticeably, the dragon-flying scenes had that rollercoaster-esque feel.

Aside from the visuals, the story was Mjollnir-solid. Humorous foil characters, a wonderfully written father/son plotline, even a believable puppy-love thread. Whether this is due to Cowell’s source material or the brilliant writers at DreamWorks, I don’t know, but this movie was pitch-perfect from beginning to end. It’s been a long time since I’ve truly enjoyed a movie all the way through, not once feeling bored or cheated. The humor is expertly balanced with heart, the action perfectly paired with character building.

The movie’s core rests with Hiccup and his relationship with both Toothless, the dragon, and his father, Stoick. Toothless is probably the cutest animated animal to hit the silverscreen in years – and even better, he’s a bad-ass Night Fury (can you say plasma fire balls?). However the animators did it, I’ll never know, but they managed to give Toothless just the right amount of multi-animal characteristics, that everyone sees a bit of their favorite pet in his mannerisms – making him instantly relatable. And the relationship between Hiccup and Stoick had more resonance than most live-action attempts at the same situation: single father, raising a son he doesn’t fully understand – son trying to find himself while struggling to please his father. While the story is nothing new, the presentation was spot on and rang true.

The action was surprisingly intense, with a climactic battle to thrill even the most seasoned action-movie lover. There was nothing too scary for kids, but just enough for adults to fully enjoy.

Without giving anything away, the ending of the movie was perfect. It sealed the deal. The movie was great, and then the ending elevated it to superb.

The Weasel: There were quite a few fellow Viking youngsters that Hiccup interacted with. While each one was given distinct characteristics, it was sometimes hard to tell them apart, and, occasionally, their presence felt unnecessary.

Best movie of the year so far. And if Pixar’s sole contribution to the animation pool is Toy Story 3, I think How to Train Your Dragon has a chance at taking next year’s Oscar.

5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you read the book? Did Toothless remind you of your pet too? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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