Friday, 11 June 2010
I had made my mind up about this film. I saw the trailers and made it as another twee, cutesy Dreamworks animation with wise-cracking characters and "knowing" comedy. I was quite surprised to see the wealth of positive reviews begin to roll in, and then the steadily accumulating box-office which could surely only be the result of strong word of mouth and repeat performances. I later watched a few bits of it, peering through the porthole, and saw some strikingly beautiful animation and a few glimpses of thoughtful and visual characterisation.
So, with the film showing on a matinee this weekend, I thought I would take this opportunity to actually give it a look.
I am very glad I did.
"How to Train Your Dragon" is the story of a weedy kid in a village of burly Vikings whose only reason for living is to fight and kill the various varieties of dragon which routinely attack their settlement. This kid, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), is your typical outcast underdog character; never strong enough or popular enough to stand out from the crowd. Can he make his mark on his people, impress his father and win the heart of the girl of his dreams? What do you reckon?
What "Dragon" lacks in originality of plot, it more than makes up for with some surprisingly poignant drama, a lot of heart, some truly breathtaking set-pieces and a blossoming Han/Chewie relationship between Hiccup and his newly discovered dragon-buddy, Toothless.
The dragons in this film may occasionally veer too close to "cute", more like Ricky Gervais' "Flanimals" than Smaug of the Lonely Mountain, but the characterisation of Toothless is one of the strongest points of the film. Apparently based on a cross between an axolotl, a house cat and Stitch the wacky space alien, I thought I would have a hard time warming to this "Dragon-in-name-only", but Toothless is imbued with such character and personality that it is impossible not to be won over.
The film is light and funny, but carefully builds a consistent world which you can invest in to such an extent that what could've been trite bollocks somehow becomes something simply beautiful.
There are frequent moments of unadulterated movie joy, mainly in the flying scenes, and I am not ashamed to say I actually had tears in my eyes at two or three points when image, music, sound and emotion merge perfectly to create indelible, transcendent cinema. I was watching it on my own in the auditorium with a massive hangover, so maybe I was just feeling lonely and fragile, but still...
As Hiccup uses his connection with Toothless to bridge the gap between their two species, the "can't we all just get along" message may become a little hackneyed for some, there are perhaps too many juvenile flourishes (characters named Snotlout, Ruffnut and Tuffnut? Really?) to capture every adult's imagination, and there will be a great many people with unanswerable questions (How come all the grown-ups are Scottish and the kids are American?), but this is, overall, a singularly enjoyable piece of family entertainment.
"Dragon" is much more in line with "The Iron Giant" or many of Pixar's stellar output than Dreamworks' usual celebrity-voice/pop-culture reference-fests. With this, "Kung Fu Panda" and "Monsters vs Aliens", Dreamworks are finally beginning to spread their wings; and "Dragon" is the highest they've soared yet.