“I’LL ADMIT, THE STORY IS GOOD. HOWEVER…”
Dragons have always been a main staple of everything fantasy because of their immense ferocity. Every major medium has its own portrayal of a mythical fire-breathing reptilian. Smaug in the Hobbit is arguably the richest fictional character ever. George R.R Martin has his dragons in the literary mammoth that is Game of Thrones. The titular Spyro battled his way through enemies on the original PlayStation… Erm Dragonforce are a band that makes music. Everywhere you look, dragons tend to be popular so it was no surprise that Dreamworks – possibly riding on the success of the first two Shrek films (the latter two less so, but that’s another discussion) – created an animated family film based around the trials and tribulations of the dangerous creatures based on the original book by Cressida Cowell.
Director’s Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois have both worked with Disney to help create some of their classic films such as The Lion King, Mulan, Aladin and, my personal favourite, Lilo and Stitch, so to see them come together again for Dreamworks, I was interested to see how they would do with a clean slate to start from with this 2010 offering.
Hiccup narrates the tale set in the Viking populated village of Berk that is constantly attacked by dragons that take their sheep and destroy their buildings. Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is portrayed as the outcast of the society that doesn’t live up to his father’s (voiced by Gerard Butler) battle-hungry persona. Hiccup is young, weedy and clumsy; a trail of destruction normally follows the kid and as such, he has a rocky relationship with his dad and he feels that they are worlds apart and that they don’t have much in common. That is until Hiccup secretly shoots down the infamous Night Fury – a stealthy and agile and somewhat rare dragon – during a night time attack on the village. To prove his mettle, Hiccup contemplates killing the Night Fury to prove to his father and the village once and for all, he can be accepted as a dragon-murdering machine like the rest of them. After all, he has got the life of one of the lesser known species in his hands. He fails and lets the Night Fury go but after he finds the dragon trapped and crippled, he starts to form a bond and names the dragon Toothless and starts to learn that the fire-breather is not as violent as first understood. Hiccup builds a relationship and then a controllable replacement tailpiece that allows him to fly Toothless. The lessons he takes away from his bond with the dragon, he then applies to his battle skills in dragon training with his fellow young vikings, much to their disappointment as this once weedy, outcast is outdoing them in every single way.
I’ll admit the story is good. However, it isn’t amazing and I couldn’t really watch it without seeing shades of Lilo and Stitch in there; outcast terror that only one character bonds with that everyone else is trying to rid only to be captured by the baddie when an ultimately stronger force comes along to end it all, so the baddies and the goodies become acquainted, settle differences and save the day. A lot of stories may do that but Sander’s and DeBois’ Disney film did it before and also did it a lot better. I also found Hiccup, no matter how good I thought Baruchel portrayed him, to be bit one dimensional – ironic, for film that was released in the age of ‘3D everything to within an inch of its life’ cinematography. Hiccup isn’t boring but he also isn’t very enlightening as a hero. I didn’t walk away feeling that I want to be that type of hero in my own dragon-based adventure, whether I was a child or not. I didn’t connect. I also felt the lack of interplay between Toothless and Hiccup to be a bit whimsical; almost as if Hiccup doesn’t really understand how much of a big ordeal shooting down a Night Fury is. Toothless has all the charisma and charm in this relationship and is the true star of the film.
Apart from that, the films technicalities are perfect! There are some stunning backdrops and the flying sequence have depth. You can see it was made for 3D and I don’t feel that any of the drops, swoops and high-speed turns lost any of their magic on a 2D screen. It’s a bright and colourful film even in night scenes and the effects of blazing fires are quite remarkable. I also enjoyed America Ferrara’s acting on the cold and fierce but likeable Astrid as she comes to terms with Hiccup and his skills. Butler’s voicing of Hiccup’s Father Stoik was perfect. So perfect in fact, I fully expected ‘This is Sparta!’ to be ruptured out of his vocal chords more than once during the film. The music is also grand and captures the same atmosphere that from the off, I would expect an epic adventure film to have.
Maybe this is all oversight though. I mean, How To Train Your Dragon was, and has been very successful. I am disappointed that Sander’s and DeBois’ could have done a lot better and I feel that Dreamworks will always be second best to Disney/Pixar’s efforts (although they can still hold their own when it comes just Disney and their own computer graphics animation films. Tangled, I’m looking at you). I just feel there where missed opportunities and arcs that could have been better developed. The things that How To Train Your Dragon does well, it does really well but the things that it does badly, bring that level of polish down and gives it an overall mediocrity. It’s still funny, it’s still beautiful and clean and it is still also rather fresh which for an almost 5 year animated film is no small feat. Who knows? Maybe all of this will be change my opinion if the follow up doesn’t suffer from a bad case of ‘Sequel Syndrome.’
Kat says: “I have read the book How to Train Your Dragon and although the plot differs from the film I did enjoy it. I can see why they didn’t follow the same story as the book but I actually prefer book over the film. I do, however, like Toothless from the film”
Words by Jimmi and Kat