This will be the first time I’ve done a regular “review” of a movie or book, so bear with me as I figure out a consistent standard for doing these. I think I’m going to go with a “letter grade” for my reviews, either ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, or ‘F’, with a + or – here or there to indicate something either exceptional or just below par for that grade. So here goes my first review.
How to Train Your Dragon
Genre: Fantasy, Computer Animation, 3-D
Overall Grade: A
Dear Wife and I don’t get to go out to movies very often, and I expect that will be more true as we welcome dear baby B.T. into our home. So this is most probably one of the last movies we get to see together for the next several months that we didn’t wait to catch on DVD from redbox. Personally, I was considerably more excited about this movie than I was about the other tent-pole alternative, “Clash of the Titans“. Then again, I’m an avowed sucker for family fantasy flicks. So, we decided to go see this movie together, in all it’s 3-D glory.
The good news: this movie did not disappoint. In all the most important regards, the movie excelled, and it was every bit as good as my expectation. If you’re a fan of light-hearted family friendly movies such as those from Pixar or like the Shrek franchise, then I believe this movie will definitely be up your alley.
The skinny, if you haven’t heard, is that young Hiccup, from the village of Berk, wants to be a great Viking warrior like his father, to help defend the village against nightly dragon raids. The dragons steal their sheep and burn their crops, and without the protection of these Viking warriors, the village would starve. But Hiccup isn’t like the rest of the Vikings: he’s physically smaller, and spends his time coming up with ingenious ideas for fighting dragons that always seem to go awry. To prove himself to his clan, he’s determined to capture and kill one of the dreaded Night Furies, a variety of dragon that seems to be the offspring of a living Stealth Bomber. When he actually manages to shoot one out of the sky with his bola cannon, nobody believes him. So Hiccup heads off into the forest where the dragon crash-landed.
Right away, you’ve got my attention, and a serious rooting interest in the main character. His experience is more than just a fantasy cliché: he’s like a fantasy (and highly-dramatized) version of me. Relatively scrawny, more of a thinker than my peers, the son of a military man, and desperate to prove myself in my own way and on my own terms. The good news for Hiccup: he has the opportunity to befriend a dragon!
Overall the story was very fun, the characters were engaging, and the animation was exceptionally well done. Like “Avatar”, the 3-D in “How to Train Your Dragon” is full-immersion, depth-of-field affair (not a cardboard cut-out deal like what I hear you get with “Clash of the Titans”). One of the most spectacular scenes occurs as Hiccup takes flight with his dragon friend and we in the audience feel as though we’ve come just about as close to flying with a dragon as we can actually get in our pathetically dragon-less world.
That said, there are a few dings that I have to give the movie. The estranged boy seeks solace in the friendship of a wild pet theme is standard bildungsroman fare, though I think it works here. There were times when I thought Jay Baruchel’s performance as Hiccup were a little too deadpan in their delivery. There were opportunities in the movie for it to be a little more daring or a little more dramatic that it did not take, but I don’t fault that too much in a family friendly movie. And, as a nerd, I can say that in my personal opinion Hiccup’s fellow student Fishlegs – who has memorized the statistics on every dragon in the kind of obsessive detail evident only in role-playing game enthusiasts, Pokémon players, and Baseball fans – is underutilized and underdeveloped. But, again, I’m a nerd, and wanted to see more of the nerd characters.
By the end of the movie, though, Dear Wife and I both were coming out of the theater with smiles on our faces. We had just enjoyed a really well-made movie. If you want to come out of a movie theater with a smile on your face, you should go see “How to Train Your Dragon”.