What is it with some movie titles? There have been a few of late that just do not inspire all that much confidence. One of those films was Hot Tub Time Machine, a movie I ended up loving every ridiculous moment of. This is another.
I realize now that How to Train Your Dragon is based on a novel, but I did not know that going in. Regardless of the source, a movie with this borderline unwieldy title does not imply a good, much less great, film. Then I saw the first trailer and my suspicions appeared to be validated. At this point I made the decision to skip it. You know, I have to cut corners somewhere and this looked like an ideal lesser title that I could safely take a pass on. Clearly that did not happen as here I am with a review of the film.
The closer to the release we got, new trailers and clips emerged and my opinion took a a turn. The clips really looked good. It seemed my quick judgment was misguided. I was further pushed into a positive frame of mind by the positive word that was popping up on Twitter. Just like that I went from the "skip it" camp to the "can't wait" camp. Sitting here reflecting on the experience, I have to say that I extremely happy with my change of heart. It turns out How to Train Your Dragon is an absolute delight of a film that will put a smile on your face, a wow on your tongue, and a spring in your step.
Do not get me wrong, this is no great movie, and I suspect there is a possibility it will end being nothing more than a blip on the cinematic landscape as its release fades into the past. Granted, I could be wrong. Either way, the movie is here now and is tremendously entertaining. Round up the kids, your friends, whoever you meet on the street and go check it out.
The story is set in the mountainside village of Berk. It is a Viking village populated with big, burly Vikings with horned helmets, long beards, and a warrior mentality. At the center of it all is Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), son of the village leader (Gerard Butler). He is undersized, mocked, and clearly not the warrior type. Despite his diminutive stature, Hiccup is determined to make his mark as a Viking warrior. You see, the village is beset by dragon attacks. Flying critters of all shapes and sizes regularly attack the village leaving a wake of destruction as they carry off the livestock.
During one attack, Hiccup takes a slingshot-like invention he has devised to take down dragons out to a cliffside and takes a shot. He gets a hit, but he has no way of proving it and winds up getting in some trouble. This is where the story begins to take shape, with a touching talk between father and son, a son realizing what he wants to do, and a father who still wants his son to be like him. It is all about finding your way in a world that is rapidly changing.
Hiccup discovers the dragon he hit and what initially presents as fear on both sides blossoms into a unique friendship. The dragon and the boy bond, eventually returning to the village with a mission to save it from the wrath of the bad dragons. The developing relationship is rather adorable, watching their tentative steps and the lengths Hiccup goes to protect his friend while still showing up at home where he "trains" to be a dragon killer. Everything comes to a head as the friendship is revealed and their entire belief system is thrown for a loop.
No, not the most original story, in fact it is rather predictable. You could go so far as saying the story is tired. I counter that by saying that well used plots can be made fresh again through their execution. How to Train Your Dragon succeeds in the execution of the concept.
Co-writers and co-directors Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders do a wonderful job realizing the story. The central character is engaging and the story has plenty of heart. I cared about the characters and what was going to happen. There is a good blend of action and comedy and the pace is very good. There is nary a wasted moment.
This is also one of the latest 3D releases to hit screens. There is always going to be a debate over the worthiness of the technology. The key is to balance the gimmick with intelligent use. This movie makes excellent use of the technology. I daresay that next to Avatar, this movie makes the best use of the technology. There is a great sense of depth as I was drawn into the world. There is a wonderful sense of flying during the dragon rides. Definitely strong in this regard and an experience I recommend.
Bottom line. I am so glad I decided to see this. It is an exciting ride with a well written story, fun characters, and strong animation. It is a fun movie for anyone who chooses to go see it. Do yourself a favor, if you want to have fun and have an unadulterated good time, try this on for size.