Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Format: AC-3, Animated, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2010
Run Time: 98 minutes
Special Features: Animated short film, interviews and behind-the scenes footage, deleted scenes, games
Muse Reviews Rating: 4.5 laurels
This week's review is How To Train Your Dragon, by DreamWorks Animation. You know, the creators of the Shrek series. If you're a parent, chances are good you've already seen this movie with your kids. However, if you're like me, you don't want to wrangle two rowdy kids in a theater crowded with other people's unruly offspring. Thank goodness for DVD!
If you haven't heard of How To Train Your Dragon - you know, because you've been living in a desert cave without an Internet connection and only migrated to civilization within the last month - here's a quick peek at the DVD trailer:
Based on the book of the same title by Cressida Cowell, How To Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the misfit son of a Viking chieftain. Hiccup is desperate to kill one of the dragons that continually raid his island home and improve his social status enough to land a date with Astrid (America Ferrera), the prettiest and toughest girl in the village. Impressing his father, the legendary Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), wouldn't hurt either. Unfortunately, Hiccup is stuck in the forge where he is apprenticed to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), blacksmith and trainer of the next generation of dragon slayers, who has the onerous task of keeping Hiccup out of trouble.
During a raid, Hiccup sneaks out of the forge and uses one of his many inventions to attack a Night Fury. These mysterious creatures are the most elusive and feared of all dragons. To make matters worse, Hiccup's contraptions never work and usually backfire. No one is more surprised than Hiccup when his latest invention succeeds. Hiccup tracks the injured dragon to a secluded valley but can't bring himself to kill it. Instead, he befriends the dragon, which he dubs "Toothless" because of its retractable teeth. As the weeks pass, Hiccup discovers that dragons are more complex than anyone in his village realizes.
Like the real stars of this movie - the dragons - How To Train Your Dragon is more complex than it first appears. Beyond the obvious theme of a boy coming of age, How To Train Your Dragon explores the relationship between a father and son, demonstrates why it's always a good idea to get to know someone before judging him, touches on the abilities of the differently-abled (Gobber is missing a hand and a foot but hardly seems to notice), and even the value of animal research as Hiccup spends hours observing the Night Fury. How To Train Your Dragon is a step up from the usual DreamWorks scripts, which rely heavily on cliches and pop-culture references. I credit the improvement to the writing and directing team of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who also created Disney's Lilo and Stitch.
I'm not an expert in animation techniques, but I thought How To Train Your Dragon was gorgeous. In my opinion, it's second only to Avatar. The flight sequences might be better. I know my kids loved them, because my preschooler spent days "flying" around the house after watching this movie. We rented the single-disc DVD rather than the 3D BlueRay and the effects were still superb.
The only criticism I have for How To Train Your Dragon is in the casting. Why do the adult Vikings speak with Scottish brogues?!?! I admit my ancient history is a bit rusty, but I'm fairly sure the Vikings were from Scandinavia, not Scotland. Don't get me wrong, Gerard Butler is an excellent actor and I can't think of a better choice to play Stoick. Likewise, Craig Ferguson's portrayal of Gobber is the perfect combination of humor and eccentric mentor. I just wish DreamWorks had hired a dialogue coach to give them Nordic accents. This small detail is the only thing keeping me from giving How To Train Your Dragon five laurels. Maybe I'm nitpicky, but the incongruity grated on my nerves.
Overall, How To Train Your Dragon is great fun for the whole family. It's full of quotable lines and everyone will have his or her favorites. My personal choice comes from Hiccup during a flight sequence:
"Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile."
Jay Baruchel delivers this line with a perfect, dry wit that had me laughing as loud on the third viewing as I did on the first. How To Train Your Dragon is definitely going on my holiday wish list.
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