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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon

I'm reviewing this movie pretty late in the game, and that is entirely my fault. To be fair, I've been hyping How To Train Your Dragon on my twitter account since seeing it a few weeks back. And now I'm reviewing it on this blog.

How To Train Your Dragon is by far one of the best animated films put out by Dreamworks in the company's history--probably because it is an adaptation of a series of books by Cressida Cowell. It's a step in the right direction, I think, and hopefully we'll see more films of this quality from Dreamworks in the future, since most of their films have been rather dreadful in the past.

How To Train Your Dragon follows Hiccup, the son of a fierce viking warrior in a viking village plagued by dragon attacks. Hiccup isn't like everyone else, as if the name didn't give that away. He's small, eccentric, an inventor, and everything that a viking is not. His father is ashamed of him and the village views him as a social pariah. When one of his contraptions causes havoc during a dragon attack, Hiccup is sent to dragon training in hopes that it will turn him into a mighty warrior like his father.

But Hiccup, however, isn't a total failure: during the last attack, one of his contraptions snags a rare and unseen species of dragon, and Hiccup sets out to prove once and for all that he's not the loser everyone thinks he is.

Where do I start? How To Train Your Dragon is one of the best films I've seen for kids (and adults). It's adorable, thoroughly enjoyable, and, in a weird way, kind of beautiful, both visually and emotionally.

From a narrative perspective, How To Train Your Dragon is predictable, but the way it plays with its cliches is quite humorous. There are a few moments in the film where characters refer to the dragons in RPG language (+5 to armor!), which for a geek like me is hilarious and awesome. The same is true of other elements of the story, such as Hiccup's developing relationship with Toothless, the rise of the dragon-killer trainees, and so on. Don't expect a purely original movie here, because this isn't one of those, but it is a story that knows it's a cliche and isn't afraid to make light of that fact.

Probably the strongest point of the film is how its characters interact and make you forget that you're watching something that has been done before (unlike some movies--cough, Avatar, cough). Hiccup is nerdy and lovable and his relationship with Toothless (his dragon) is wonderful and heartwarming. It's almost impossible to not find the two of them adorable in all the right ways. Even the other characters, from Hiccup's father (Gerard Butler) to the handicapped Gobber (Craig Ferguson) to Astrid (America Ferrera) and the other trainees, mesh well from start to finish. The characters are typical, yes, but also wonderful for it. This is very much a character-driven movie, and How To Train Your Dragon is all the better for it.

If one has to nitpick, probably the things that will bother people who see this film are its minor inconsistencies and some of its cliches. The accents throughout the movie are haphazard. Most of the adults are Scottish, for some odd reason, while all of the younger characters are American. It didn't bother me as much as it should have, though, perhaps because the story is downright entertaining. Probably most damning is the Father/Son narrative that is painfully transparent and unfortunately very predictable--as I've indicated earlier on a broader level. I noticed it while watching, and it makes How To Train Your Dragon just a few strides short of perfect, but I don't think the obviousness of its plot points detracts from the wonder of the film as a whole.

The worst thing about How To Train Your Dragon, though, has nothing to do with the film itself: it has everything to do with Hollywood's obsession with 3D. Do NOT see How To Train Your Dragon in 3D. It's not worth the extra $3-$5, not because the movie isn't worth that, but because 3D is really overrated, too gimmicky for its own good, distracting, and sort of lame. 3D sucks some of the color from the picture, which is terrible when How To Train Your Dragon is full of so much color. It can also take some time to adjust; I found myself somewhat disoriented for the first fifteen minutes before my eyes settled in. There are some cool moments, though, such a when ash particles appear outside of the screen, almost as though they are falling around you, but for the most part, the 3D is plain annoying. Don't bother. See the movie on a normal screen.

In the end, I think How To Train Your Dragon is a must see film for kids and adults alike. If you have a family, take them to see this one. It's a little dark at times, but I think the adorable characters and the great character development make for a wonderful film that everyone can enjoy. If you haven't seen it, then you should. It takes the cake as the best Dreamworks film yet to be created and the characters will stay with you for days to come. Plus, the soundtrack is wonderful! I have it on my computer now and it has a lot of wonderful melodies. If you're a writer, it's a good soundtrack to write to!

Directing: 3.75/5
Cast: 4.5/5
Writing: 4.0/5
Visuals: 4.25/5
Adaptation: N/A (I haven't read the original, so I can't really make a judgment)
Overall: 4.125/5
Value: $9.00 (based on a $10.50 max)

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