How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
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Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Dean DeBlois, Adam F. Goldberg, Chris Sanders, Peter Tolan, Cressida Cowell
Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller, Robin Atkin Downes, Kieron Elliott
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Exhilarating, Magical, Beautiful
Favorite Movie Quote: "Because I want to remember what you say right now."
There's this whole... animation thing... that's beginning to wear on me. I'm sure you've heard at least one person say, "Yeah, but it's no Pixar movie," or perhaps, "I expect more from a Pixar movie." Well, How to Train Your Dragon is not, in fact, a Pixar movie; it's from Dreamworks Animation SKG, as was the masterful Kung Fu Panda.
Now before anyone gets their loincloth in a bunch, Pixar does have a great track record, but it seems certain films get knocked for being other than Pixar, while other less than stellar Pixar efforts (Cars, Cars 2) get a pass. Also, I find it strange to judge movies based on expectations; either a film is good or it isn't. When millions of dollars are spent on these animated films (not to mention live-action), we as an audience have the right to expect greatness, and the last time I checked, tickets cost the same regardless who made it. In summation of this specific point, if you can make How to Train Your Dragon a better movie, relocate to Los Angeles because the industry could use you.
Another point of contention I have regarding animated films (certain films in general really) is this ongoing delusion that they're made for kids which is really nothing more than an excuse to disguise a half-assed effort and talk down to children. As a child one of my first film experiences was a drive-thru double feature of Raiders of the Lost Ark and... some animated Disney film - Fox and the Hound I think (I honestly don't remember) - but just so you know, I never had any f*cking Fox and the Hound action figures.
This is consistent with my affection for other properties such as the Muppets, Looney Tunes (not the abominable newer Tiny Toons, which always struck me as targeted towards over-caffinated tweens), the original Star Wars, various comic book properties, and to be fair Pixar films Toy Story and The Incredibles; some contemporary filmmakers (not surprisingly mostly from the newer generation) get it. Others don't.
The point of this all is that How to Train Your Dragon is not only something that I think I'd have loved as a kid, but it's something I love now, arguably my favorite animated film I've ever seen and very well constructed besides. The writing, editing, music, shot design, and attention to detail with the animation - not just the physical details but the little character ticks - is awesome. Maybe not as clever as, say, Toy Story, Dragon makes up for it, not by making me wish I was young, but possessed of an electricity that makes me feel young again and having a huge heart (that rivals the Iron Giant).
Our out-of-place protagonist is Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a nerd in a Viking village full of jocks, with the biggest jock of all being his father Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). As an all around failure in the eyes of the Vikings since he's small, physically weak, and clumsy, Hiccup is a bit of an embarrassment to his father, and Hiccup's convinced the only thing that can fix that is to kill a dragon. Using a contraption of his own devising, Hiccup incapacitates a Night Fury, deadliest of all the dragons, but when it comes time to strike the killing blow he chooses instead to let it go. Wounded and having crashed in a valley, the beast - soon to be named Toothless - can't escape.
In the beginning, Hiccup brings Toothless food and seeks to study him, from which he gleans several ways to defeat dragons without having to kill them, and very quickly realizes that dragons are not inherently evil and quite clever. He then begins his double life of dragon training - learning how to kill dragons under Cobber (Craig Ferguson) with fellow student and fixation Astrid (America Ferrera) - with one of the best Hollywood introductions ever, rocking the boots and skirt - and training Toothless with his new prosthetic tail-piece.
The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless grows through a set of amazing aerial sequences, what drew most of the attention to the film set in sprawling and widely complimented 3D. I didn't see the film in 3D or even the theater and these sequences blew me away. Not only are they amazing in their speed and intensity, but each one is a stepping stone in the relationship between the boy and his beast, as well as Hiccup's ingenuity in 'repairing' Toothless' wound.
As the inevitable climax rounds the bend, you know the Vikings are going to need the dragons, but what's great is the dragons need the Vikings too for their big Viking balls and their brains; refreshingly, Hiccup and his fellow 'classmates' actually apply what they learned in dragon training and from Toothless to fight the film's big bad. It was also nice that the big final battle - which was every bit as exciting to me as the end of Star Wars - had a cost to our Home Team, and all of this tucked into a family-friendly, PG-rated, animated 'kids' movie.
Everything else aside, the heart of this film is the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless; the message is obvious, of course, but unlike films that hit you with it as if with a battle axe, Dragon sets the battle axe to the side and offers it to you with grace. The scene where Hiccup must delicately dance over the lines drawn by Toothless in the dirt to reach him is about as touching a scene that I can recall (and not a bad metaphor either).
How to Train Your Dragon is exilhirating, magical, and beautiful. And the action sequences are great too.
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