Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Vikings are awesome.  Fact.  If I had to pick between a viking, pirate or ninja, I would just wait five minutes, because the Viking would undoubtedly cut the other two in half with a battle axe and then fashion a helmet from their skulls.  Like I said: awesome.  And their religion is just as bad-ass, even from the bits and pieces historians have been able to assemble (Vikings didn't write...unless it was in the blood of their enemies).  For instance, their head god, Odin, poked out his own eye to gain godly wisdom and hung himself from a tree for nine days with a spear in his side to learn magic.  And then, on his day of rest, he created the ultimate viking, and the man that Biblical Adam is loosely based on, Chuck Norris.  And then Odin punched Chuck Norris in the stomach so hard that his testicles popped out of their protective spot inside the pelvis; that is why all men now have their most delicate body part dangling, undefended, in the wind.

What does that have to do with How to Train Your Dragon?  It has Vikings in it, duh.

How to Train Your Dragon is loosely based on a series of books on the life and times of a (probably fictional) Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel).  As his name implies, Hiccup is not much of a viking; while the others are brawny and mostly simple, Hiccup is skinny and cerebral.  His village, Berk, is frequently attacked and raided for livestock by a variety of dragons.  As such, the Vikings of Berk make a big deal about killing dragons.  Desperate to prove himself to the town and Stoick (Gerard Butler), the village leader (and Hiccup's dad), Hiccup tries to invent tools that will help him kill a dragon.  One night, Hiccup uses one of his inventions to knock down a member of the most feared dragon species of them all, the Night Fury.  Nobody believes him, though, so Hiccup tracks the dragon down and finds it helpless, still caught in his net.  Now, if Hiccup was a standard Viking, he would have cut out the dragon's heart to prove his victory to others, but Hiccup feels bad and instead releases the creature.  Obviously, the dragon kills Hiccup because dragons are evil creatures and the rest of the movie is about Stoick seeking revenge for his lost song --- WHAAA?!?  The dragon lets Hiccup live?  That flies in the face of everything the Berkians know about dragons!  I wonder if the brainy Hiccup will try to learn more about this dragon and somehow find a way to prove himself to his father and the village?

The voice acting is decent all-around, with Jay Baruchel doing double duty as both a character and the narrator.  The rest of the cast played exactly who you would expect them to play in a movie.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays a (Viking) nerd who spouts off Dungeons and Dragons (get it?) -style data (Attack +2, Armor +1, etc.) about every known dragon whenever he opens his mouth.  America Ferrera plays the "girls kick ass" love interest and Jonah Hill plays an obnoxious kid that should shut up more often.  Gerard Butler plays the rough-and-tumble Viking leader/father and Craig Ferguson voices the one-armed and one-legged dragon-killing instructor for the kids.  That's right...the two adults are both Scottish, and none of the children are.  Do these Vikings grow into their accents?  Is a Scottish burr a reward for reaching manhood?  Startlingly, these questions are never addressed in this film.  Aside from the peculiarity of the accents, everybody does a decent job.  Mintz-Plasse's recurring joke of a character was kind of funny, but the only real standout in the voice-acting department was Craig Ferguson, who was funny and surprised me with how well he handled the more dramatic moments. 

This movie was directed and co-written by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois, both former Disney people whose highest profile work was on Lilo and Stitch and its subsequent direct-to-DVD sequels.  As far as the directing goes, they do a pretty good job, I think.  There are no outstanding voice performances, but the animation looks great and the story is told well enough.  I don't know why they opted to make Scottish Vikings with American children, but I doubt that bugs anyone but me.  And anyone viewing the film in Nordic countries. 

I liked the movie as entertainment for a child, but it wasn't great, certainly not to the tune of the $500+ million it made in theaters.  Yes, it's a cute story and dragons are cool, but the story lacks an emotional punch.  This is not too surprising, since Dreamworks Animation usually makes funny but vapid kids movies, but Dragon is a little different.  There isn't nearly as much comedy as you might think in this movie, but it doesn't drag despite that lack.  The film also deals with several potentially heavy topics; there is a fractured father-son relationship, the notion of being a social outcast, the importance of standing up for personal values, the power of group-think mentalities, the place of animals in our culture (friends vs. pets vs. prey), among other issues.  Don't worry, though --- How to Train Your Dragon might bring up these issues, but it doesn't develop any of them.  You would think that the emotional core of the film would center around Hiccup and his dragon, but it bounces around to his love interest and one scene with his father.  Deep, this isn't.  Still, dragons are cool and the movie is about seeing the dragons breathe fire and fly.  I don't think this is a bad movie --- kids should certainly enjoy it --- and it is certainly watchable by adults, but it's a little simple for my tastes.  And it loses some points for making Vikings with Scotsmerican accents.
There is also an animated short that goes along with the DVD, called The Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon.  This follows Hiccup and his friends as they try to help their teacher (Craig Ferguson) find a legendary dragon that nobody but he believes in.  The mini-film is mostly just Craig Ferguson telling stories to the kids, with traditional animation helping.  I thought this short, while predictable and repetitive, was much more entertaining than the feature film and proves, once again, that Craig Ferguson is a funny guy when he is not reading monologue jokes.

1 comment:

  1. You have now reviewed more than twice as many Family movies than Sci-Fi movies. Please end this disturbing trend.