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How to Train Your Dragon 3D (Review)

How to Train Your Dragon 3D (Review)

How to entertain your family
Apr 4, 2010
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How to Train Your Dragon
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy Release Date: 25/03/2010 Runtime: 98 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois Writer(s): 
Cressida Cowell

William Davies

Dean DeBlois

Chris Sanders

Cast: America Ferrera, , Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, Jay Baruchel,
How to Train Your Dragon 3D (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2010-04-04T13:29:29+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

The golden rule of film criticism (for me, anyway) is to always consider the target audience. During a family film, for instance, I occasionally glance around the cinema to see how the children are behaving; are they quiet and attentive, or fidgety and disruptive?

In the case of the animated adventure How to Train Your Dragon, the cinema was blissfully silent. There wasn’t a peep beyond gasps of elation and bursts of laughter. And I’m not just talking about the kids.

A crowd pleaser we haven’t seen the likes of from DreamWorks Animation since Shrek in 2001, How to Train Your Dragon marks a welcome return to form for the animation studio who have been stuck in the shadow of Disney/Pixar for the last decade now. When Pixar were making a motion towards producing more innovative and profound animations such as WALL-E and Up, DreamWorks were still busy trying to reproduce the success of Shrek by making more of the same breezy gag-driven films such as Madagascar 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens. Despite falling back on the misfit-child-befriends-animal storyline we’ve seen countless times before, Dragon finally sees DreamWorks shift their focus away from slapstick comedy and towards the very qualities Pixar have been injecting in their films for years: heart and soul. There are fewer laugh-aloud moments as a result – a sign that the balance has been tipped perhaps a little too much – but Dragon is as endearing and engaging as they come.

The story concerns the unfortunately named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), a timid young Viking desperate to become a dragon slayer like his macho father Stoick (Gerard Butler), the leader of their mountainous village of Berk. During a dragon attack on the village, Hiccup sneaks out to prove his worth to his father, using a ballista net-launcher to bring down the much-revered, but never-before-seen Night Fury species of dragon.  The only problem is that no one  witnessed him do it, so Hiccup travels into the woods to find the place where the dragon crash-landed to prove it. When he comes across the beast, he cannot bring himself to kill it, instead feeling sorry for its broken wing that greatly restricts its ability to fly. Over the coming weeks, Hiccup forms a close bond with the dragon (named Toothless due to its retractable set of teeth), realising that everything his village thought they knew about the beasts was wrong.

Writers and directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders don’t miss a beat in adapting Cressida Cowell 2003 novel of the same name, making sure every scene serves a purpose in progressing the familiar but amiable storyline and developing the charming characters (Toothless – a cat and a dog rolled into one — is utterly gorgeous). There’s plenty of adrenaline-charged action scenes spliced in-between, all building up to one of the most spectacular aerial battles this side of Avatar. In many ways, it’s even more impressive than Cameron’s epic as it focuses on ten or so characters at once, yet remains remarkably cohesive. It’s an indication that the action has been storyboarded to perfection, not to mention beautifully animated, particularly the scene in which Toothless and Hiccup fly through the mountains for the first time. A young boy to my left literally fell off the edge of his seat during this sequence, which says it all. Although enjoyment is in no way reserved for the 3D version of the film, the immersive depth of the extra dimension certainly enhances the experience.

2010 how to train your dragon 0071 600x255 How to Train Your Dragon 3D (Review)

Many of DreamWorks past efforts have favoured big-name stars for the voice cast, a distracting trait that causes me to visualise the actor on-screen instead of the character they’re meant to be portraying. For most part, the voice cast is thankfully unrecognisable in Dragon, with up-and-coming Jay Baruchel (currently starring in She’s Out of My League) lending his fittingly nasally voice to Hiccup. Even the film’s biggest draw-card, Gerard Butler, is hardly identifiable as Stoick given how long it’s been since he’s had a chance to let his strong Scottish accent out of the bag (on a side note; what’s with DreamWorks and Scottish accents? First it was Ogres, now it’s Vikings).

While their characterisations are otherwise strong, Stoick and Hiccup’s father/son relationship is overly formulaic – a rehash of what was seen recently in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – and goes from one extreme (“you’re not my son!”) to the other (“I’m proud to call you my son”) a little too abruptly. Some of the supporting characters are just as haphazardly developed, including America Ferrera as tough gal Astrid, who is a mean-spirited antagonist one minute, a budding love interest the next. These criticisms aren’t major, but they do prevent the film from reaching classic status.

At a glance, the lesson here seems to be the same old ‘be yourself’ maxim each and every animated film falls back on. Look a little deeper, however, and there’s a fantastic anti-war message about being tolerant and empathetic as we learn that the dragons are just as afraid of the Vikings as they are the dragons.

But the most important message of all is from DreamWorks to their rivals Pixar. It simply reads, “We’re baaaack.”


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