Friday, April 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

The title of "How to Train Your Dragon" made me at first neglect to take it seriously. I only came to circle around it after I heard positive buzz. The title, in fact, I think is the film's worst facet, tongue-in-cheek as it is (although how are you going to change the title of a children's novel in its adaptation? It's virtually impossible, since it's all about marketing and "making connections"). And this is a film with a lot of facets. This is the first 3-D feature film I've seen in a very long time (yes, I saw "Avatar" in 2-D). So I was blown back by the insanity and intensity of the film's first, ridiculous dragon-fighting scene. I read today that Ebert has further condemned 3-D films, and I would have to say I'm mixed. It adds to the power of the film, but also, it is harder to focus on the film's aesthetic qualities through a pair of dark Real D glasses.

I was pretty disoriented at first. But that could also be the film. As I mentioned before, the first scene of the film spins fast through dragons attacking a village of Vikings. This is all narrated by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who speaks intensely about it in hope that he will one day kill a dragon. He is part of a society raised on violence. They've killed these dragons and the dragons have killed them for many years. There's a certain one that they've not been able to kill, and I believe Hiccup wounds it or something. That's pretty confusing.

But when he goes and finds this dragon and wants to land the final blow, he can't. This is much in stride with his whole bumbling personality. He's looked down upon as being weak and not being able to do anything well. He's basically grandfathered into dragon training, as his father (Gerard Butler) is the head of the village. And of course, he's the worst of the bunch. That is, of course, until he learns how to train his dragon. In this, as others have said, he becomes the Jake Sullyesque link between the dragons and the Vikings. But his father thinks that is not good enough to be a Viking, and looks instead to exploit the dragon that Hiccup has trained. This is not that dark, however. See yourself how it plays out.

Only 98 minutes long, "How to Train Your Dragon" is succinct and doesn't aim for too high plotwise (and thus it's nowhere near as complex as "Avatar," and I'm happy about that). It has been said (by critics such as A.O. Scott) that this film doesn't avoid populist cinema conventions. True enough. This is a sizeable flaw. But those aside, it flies into better things. It's nicely plotted and, as before mentioned, visually sound as well. But I also admired it for another reason. It has been said that Dreamworks is in a high speed race with Pixar to get the upper hand in animation. It has been often said that Pixar has won, since every film they've done has been overrated with praise. But I think Dreamworks does a nice job here. Sure, they apply, as the phrase goes, modern sensibility to old subject matter, but it's not embarrassing. Instead, it feels quick and timed well. It feels like a film that could appeal to both adults and kids, but there's none of that smart-ass wink-wink crap that Pixar uses to try to get parents to come. It's witty in the way that a kid could understand (and laugh at). Also, there are seriously nice looking visuals. Look for the time that the dragon draws a shape and Hiccup does a sort of dance to get out of it to not anger it. Or when there's a maze and one of the many dragons knocks down all of the blocks in it. Is there any reason for these images? No. They're just for the sake of the cinema, and I'm very glad they're here. "How to Train Your Dragon" isn't completely perfect. But it does very well at times, to be one of the best animated films in a while. Godspeed to it in terms of its box office (at the current moment it is the #1 film in America). I'm happy if people are watching this. B


Adelaide Dupont said...

Have heard praises of Dragon. I haven't seen it though. Might borrow it on video when the day comes.

Pixar probably does have too much wink-wink, especially in the last few.

Dragon has some interesting themes of being different and coping/surviving that.

Steph said...

I really want to see this with my kids. I'm glad you liked it!

Jozeph Dukö said...

Come on Nick, really, did you just do that? I know that I have discussed Up with you before, and we came to an agreement, but the beginning of that movie alone is enough to leave this disgrace to children in the dust!

Nick Duval said...

How is this film a "disgrace to children"? "The beginning of Up alone" was good, but as a whole was not very good.

I'm a bit confused by your comment, as well as the agreement in question.

--- Nick