How to Train Your Dragon – 3D
Go see this movie.
I can’t make it any plainer than that. It is a movie that I will be recommending to people that they *have* to see, even more so than Avatar. It is that good. It is that fun.
I took Sprout and Elfkin out for a Girls Night Out to see HTYD on Friday night and it’s the first time we’ve walked out of the theater with both kidlets thanking me profusely for taking them to the movies. And these are polite kids. On the drive back home, the girls were calculating if they have enough money to buy the BlueRay when it comes out. They are even counting down the number of weeks until the disc is released (usually it’s about 17 weeks post theatrical release).
The story is simple, we’ve seen it hundreds of times before. Hiccup, the town misfit, is the son of the great chief Stoik the Vast. As if being the nerdy son of a viking chieftain isn’t hard enough, his village is under seige by marauding dragons. Slight and smart, Hiccup isn’t exactly brawny dragonslayer material, but he’s a wicked weapons designer, becoming the only viking on his island to ever catch the mythical and deadly Nightfury.
But how deadly is a creature that loves chin scratches and regurgitating fish tails? As Hiccup quickly finds out, not very once you know and understand these animals. They are powerful yes, but when all is said and done, these are nothing more than overgrown, scaly, house cats with a propensity to belch fire. Now he has to convince his father, who is hell-bent on their extermination.
Yup, it’s an all too familiar story, but where the sheer joy comes in is how the film makers, Chris Saunders & Dean DeBlois, cram this movie to the rafters with smart imaginative narrative and visual touches that breathe life into the tale. All the characters are fleshed out, but never devolve into caricatures of themselves and they all have a believable story arc.
The biggest emotional payoff comes from the evolution of Hiccups and Stoik’s relationship. Hiccup is the odd man out, he doesn’t fit the image his father of him and Stoik struggles with accepting the son he has. It’s clear how much he loves his son, but he’s painfully aware of Hiccups limitations. Stoik does what he can to protect Hiccup and to give him purpose by apprenticing him to Gobber the Belch, the village blacksmith and trainer. You can imagine his delight when he comes home from another failed attempt locating the secret dragon hideout to find out that his son is tops in his dragonslaying class. Finally, they’ll be to relate! And when Hiccups relationship with Toothless the Nightfury comes to light, his disappointment is palatable. His inevitable acceptance of his son never feels trite or routine, even though you expect it in the end, it feels well and truly honest.
As for Hiccup, he struggles with who and what he is. Early in the movie, Gobber tells him to accept himself, that he’ll never be a great dragon slayer, but the limitations don’t sit well with Hiccup and he struggles and fights against it. He knows he can be so much more than what he is and it’s great to see him applying his considerable brains to the problems at hand without succumbing to the ‘Poor Misunderstood Me’ syndrome. I think often as parents we want to be accepting of our children, but never think of what that acceptance means. I remember a scene from the Cosby Show where Theo, trying to explain his poor school performance to his dad by giving a heart warming speech about understanding that he really isn’t that brainy and that a loving father would learn to accept his son as he is. Cliff looks deep into Theo’s puppy dog eyes and with a straight face tells him that his posturing is an unmitigated load of crap and to pull up his socks. There’s a fine line between accepting a child for who they are and giving them an excuse for being lazy, and this movie really demonstrates the difference.
All the characters are a lot of fun, and it’s hard to pick out just one, but I think my favorite was Fishlegs Ingerman, the lovable but brainless lout who’s memorized dragon guide front to back and quotes it like a nerd quoting D&D’s Monster Manual. The characterization is so perfect it brought me back to my Game Club days and warmed the cockles of my natural D20s.
How to Train Your Dragon is going to draw two obvious comparisons, the first to Shrek and the next to Avatar. HTYD, like Shrek is a Dreamworks film with all the beautiful visuals that come with it, but that’s where the comparison stops. The Shrek films rely on pop culture references to generate its humour, while HTYD does not. All the humour is character driven without relying sly self referential gags. As a result, it’s going to age far better than Shrek and will stay much more relevant.
Comparing Avatar to How to Train Your Dragon is actually painful. HTYD is everything that I hoped Avatar would be. Both movies tread familiar ground in terms of narrative, but while HTYD treads an unexpected path in terms of characterization, Avatar is an amalgam of all the same old tired tropes that we’ve seen hundreds of times before. In terms of the aerobatics, Saunders and DeBlois completely school Cameron in how to shoot a flying scene. Both films featured heart stopping aerobatics, but HTYD infused the experience with so much joy and energy that the superiority of these scenes over the ones in Avatar cannot be denied.
Another added bonus is the score. Written by John Powell (Kung Fu Panda, Xmen: Last Stand), the music is magical and plays such a role in transporting you to the god-forsaken rock in the middle of the ocean. Blending Celtic influenced melodies with big orchestra themes make it a must have for my music collection. It is big, it is dramatic and I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a movie soundtrack since Howard Shore did the music for Lord of the Rings. It is fantastic and well worth a listen.
How to Train Your Dragon is simply great. It’s so good that I’m actually considering buying a 3D television just so that I can experience it all over again at home. I’d recommend it for kids 5 and up. The two girls were fine with it, but the Big Bad at the end could be a little overwhelming for a younger child. I’m not sure that The Goob, at four could have handled it. If you are going to take little ones, I would suggest the normal version over the 3D simply because it might be a little overwhelming.