Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Dragon" Rousing, Lovable, Touching..Fun

Here's a film that got me with a film clip.  "How to Train Your Dragon" is not a kind of film I would naturally warm to.  I have resisted the 3-D bandwagon for the most part, (although I have come to appreciate it done well on appropriate material); and I hardly ever attend movies that are blatantly marketed to kids.  Then, a couple of things happened to bring me around to this movie.

First, I realized that I was unfairly dismissing a form of cinema--children's film--the artistry with which I have become increasingly unfamiliar.  (I recalled how "Mary Poppins" once really inspired me and also moved me in unexpected ways...and still does.)  More recently, "Up" whetted my appetite for the animated feature.  Without consciously knowing it, I was strengthening myself at my roots, re-inventing myself by connecting to the child inside who needed nurturing.

Second, I saw that clip...Hiccup, the young Viking protagonist who would not kill his people's arch enemy, a dragon, watches in wonder as a baby dragon comes next to him and falls asleep, like a loyal dog.  

So I convinced Mark to go, and I thought that we might have fun.

And what fun it is!  No need to recap the plot (the trailer above does a nice job). Rather, in a form I call a "personal review", I want to try to briefly relate what the movie did for me, and meant to me.

It is an exciting tale with much perilous but harmless action, and humor. I identified with the young central character having to survive in a culture in which he does not naturally belong. I liked the conflict between father and son, which is warm and humorous and cartoonishly true.  It made sense that as Hiccup retreats to the forest, the color becomes brighter, softer, while his village, although full of friendly and eccentric characters who are nevertheless sort of ignorant and crude, is cloaked in darkness, until the finale, when dragons are finally welcome as worthy companions. Then it is bathed in bright color and light.

There are a lot of scenes of flight in the film, and Hiccup's attempts to fashion a tail-rudder for his new dragon-friend Toothless is fun, and carries a subtle message about effort and persistence. Their triumph, when they succeed and can really fly, has viewers soaring, both visually and emotionally, right along with them.  For me, a relative novice in the newer cinematic technologies, I was impressed by the naturalness of the effects, which served the story and created an appropriate sense of wonder and thrill.

It is as if all involved got together and agreed to make a classically-constructed story with gentle emotion and rip-roaring clashes and suspense, and do it right. In a disarming way, it left me seeing the world as a more hopeful place, both for the creatures in it, and for the possibilites of learning.  I regarded this simple, small work of sincere artistry and emotion as a success, and it made me happy I visited. The whole theme of loving animals and the power of nature and books to transform minds and attitudes really connected with me.

The movie is worth closer analysis.  I enjoyed the different kinds of detail devoted to the rendering of its human and dragon characters.  I loved the dog-like gaze of Toothless as he waited in resigned terror to be killed, only to be spared by his new human friend.  I was not as excited about the design of Hicccup's contemporaries as 21st-century teenagers, although I understood the short-term box-office rationale for doing so.  I admired the way the movie created a sense of place that was reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings" but more basic, more comfortable.

But enough analysis for now.  I highly recommend this movie, and although I could say much more about different aspects of its construction and its performances, I would ratherleave it here in a more playful realm, that my readers have the same unvarnished experience I had.  No doubt I will revisit this in more depth in a future post.

Prepare to be entertained like a child, but allow your sensitive adult to shed a tear or two.


  1. Great review, Tom! The wife and I really want to see this one. We've heard nothing but good things about it, particularly from watching the Craig Ferguson show. (He likes to plug it a lot!) Your review only makes me want to see it more. But I think I will wait until the theater isn't full of the little ankle-biters when I see it. LOL! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tom, the film continues to get really nice reviews. I hope you enjoy it too!