How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Director: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Plot: A hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons becomes the unlikely owner of a young dragon himself, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed.
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy
Awards: Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score
Rating: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
The perceived creative gap between America’s two animation giants – Pixar and DreamWorks – gets smaller with the release of How to Train Your Dragon. DreamWorks’ new animated film rides primarily on the wave of their previous triumph, Kung Fu Panda (2008), an engaging and hilarious tale of a fat, lazy panda destined for greatness.
Here, an Oriental element is incorporated again – the dragon. The dragon is seen as an Eastern mythological symbol of power (or fear), one that is deeply rooted in (mostly) Chinese tradition more so than in Western culture.
John Powell’s original music (one of his best scores in his career) also has an Oriental feel that adds to the mysticism associated with such creatures. Interestingly, the idea that How to Train Your Dragon is set centuries ago during the era of the Vikings gives it a cross-cultural relevance.
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, 2002), this film is a showpiece event, a statement of intent by DreamWorks to prove to Pixar that they do not have a monopoly on making high-quality animated films with a heart.
An early contender for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, How to Train Your Dragon revamps formulaic material and tells its story with incredible energy. Hiccup is a timid but resourceful son of a Viking chief. Their village is always attacked by dragons that steal their food and damage their property. Hiccup’s father has sought to look for the dragons’ nest for years to wipe them out once and for all but is unsuccessful.
In the tradition of the often told story of a weak, ostracized character rising to fulfill his destiny as the hero, How to Train Your Dragon offers some surprises as the film gives the average viewer more than what he would expect.
The heart of the story belongs to the well-developed relationship between Hiccup and his new friend Toothless (also known as Night Fury which is the most feared dragon in existence). This secret relationship also addresses pertinently an overarching moral theme – don’t fight fire with fire because you will inevitably get a bigger fire. Instead, communicating love and understanding will reap far more promising rewards.
The need to “look at the bigger picture” is also highlighted in the final act where an intense sequence involving a massive battle between the Vikings and a gigantic dragon not only reveals the severity of the situation that the former find themselves in, but also provides a thrilling and climatic end to a very satisfying film.
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