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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train your Dragon is Dreamworks’ most recent theatrical production and my expectations for this movie were terribly low thanks to the kid-marketed trailer and the promise of 3D. I’ve never seen what 3D films are like but the mention of it alone implies that the movie will mainly be a work based on amazing spectacles rather than the strength of its story and direction. The underuse of Stephen Colbert in Monsters Vs. Aliens and also the horrible third installment of Shrek also played some role in my lack of enthusiasm. However, in a complete reversal of what I thought of Tim Burton’s allegedly darker and mature adaptation Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon was a solid and enjoyable movie disguised as what I assumed to be “Eragon: Kids Vesion”.

The story is about a misfit named Hiccup from a village of dragon-hunting Vikings that value physical strength, violence and foolhardiness over intellectuality and compassion. He is constantly ridiculed by his peers for being so different and has a somewhat strained relationship with father for the same reasons. I missed the first ten minutes of the movie so I don’t what happened then but Hiccup gets a chance to kill a dragon made defenseless during that time. He can’t bring himself to kill it so he lets it go and this is where his relationship with Toothless the dragon begins. The rest of the movie shows him coming to understand the true nature of these dragons, his attempts to clear up the misunderstandings his people have built up over the years and Hiccup coming into his own as a person.

I am happy to say that while the premise of this movie is clichéd, the direction in which the story is taken handles all the clichés in ways that showed that they remembered the fact that the audience weren’t made entirely of a bunch of simple minded fools and children with the attention spans of flies. I say “entirely” because there were definitely a few of those inside as there some people in the theatre with me that found some scenes funny when they really weren’t supposed to be funny. The lack of instant magical pet bonding and quick fixes along with there being lasting consequences for the actions that the characters take actually make it easy for one to take the movie seriously. The sequences and the various plotlines were given an appropriate amount of time to unfold which in turn gave me a reprieve from face palming and head banging that so, so, so many stories with similar premises weren’t gracious enough to provide me with.

Aside from the refreshing take that the movie took for this kind of plot, I have to praise the magnificent work they did with the soundtracks. No matter what scene was playing through on the silver screen, the background music was completely appropriate for every one of them and that made some scenes even more effective than they would have been if the music had been any less fitting. For example, there was a scene where Hiccup dropped his guide to flying dragons right as he was about to fly through an area filled with many cliffs and archways that he needed to get through. Just before that scene, he was still having a lot of trouble with the basic movements so having him suddenly flying like an ace like that would have soured my opinion about the movie with the predictability of the sequence if that was all there was to it. However, combine that with an appropriately glorious orchestra piece and you get an instant and unquestionable Crowning Moment of Awesome.

So how should one describe this movie to give it a more accurate portrayal rather than the initial kids flick impression that I myself fell to? “A fantasy about a kid maturing as an individual with just the right amount of darkness to go with a seemingly light tale” is how I’d describe this movie. If you’re still on the fence about watching this movie like I was then you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it’s worth the ticket fare, the overpriced snacks and the 98 minutes in the dark cold cinema. People of all ages will be able to appreciate how good this movie is and that includes the sourpusses who avoid all things childish as much as possible i.e. teenagers and cynics. Cynics in particular will be quite appreciative of the twist that happens to hiccup at the end of the movie so I really recommend this particular movie.

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