Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My DVD Review: How to Train Your Dragon Takes Flight

SPOILER ALERT: I do not plan on writing anything that gives away major plot points. But should I slip, let this blurb stand as your warning.

The Fourth of July weekend was a good excuse to hit the dollar theater with my kids. With Clash of the Titans being a little too intense, we coughed up 75 cents per person (I know, eat your heart out, movie-lovers of Los Angeles and New York!) and sat down to How to Train Your Dragon, the Dreamworks animated feature that had a successful run in the spring and will probably be headed to DVD soon. After a chatty, overly busy opening, this movie comes to life in a way that few family (non-Pixar) films do nowadays.

The first act of the film is your normal kiddie movie fodder: a misfit who no one likes who also has brilliant ideas, a parental figure with whom the protagonist struggles to connect, and a magical happening that spring boards the protagonist into acts of hiding, pretending, and finally heroism and sacrifice. Honestly, I found the opening sequence in which the village is attacked by dragons to be more of the same overly self-aware dribble we typically get from Dreamworks. The protagonist/narrator scarcely has time to take a breath between delivery of hip critiques on the village's resident Vikings. Most Dreamworks films (even the great Kung Fu Panda and semi-great Monsters vs. Aliens) suffer from this mallady- they feel like a teenager who walks into their first dance and acts as loudly and stupidly as possible to get everyone's attention. Thankfully, most of these films get past this desperate-to-be-liked stage (not Shrek) and really soar. Dragon does this in spades.

Thanks to the attentive, sensitive guidance of director Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch), the relationship between Hiccup, the lead character, and Toothless, a downed dragon who is as powerful as he is lovable, is launched early on. This is where the film gets its lift. Hiccup's interactions in the village are mired by forced self-awareness. Every time he goes to the forest to meet Toothless, the scenes are packed with humor, drama, and finally exhilaration, as the duo takes to the skies. The flying scenes in both 3D and 2D are breathtaking, invoking the same power as the banshee scenes in Avatar. This movie makes you want to fly.

All of this hurtles to an appropriately large climax in which Hiccup and Toothless duel with a mountain-sized uber-dragon in the clouds. The dramatic tension between father and son, son and dragon, and son and friends is held until this satisfying conclusion.

My conclusion from Dragon is this: the company that produced this movie is not the same one that made Shrek or Shark Tale. Despite the tinges of Dreamwork exec meddling, this company shows the same restraint and ingenuity we saw in Kung Fu Panda. I'm guessing they are one and the same. Whatever this company is, they have every right to make their own name for they are clearly on par with Pixar.

Dragon is one of the few movies this year that truly deserves a recommendation. Once it takes off, it soars, taking the audience to feelings and places mostly forgotten in youth.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the conversation! I'm always interested in hearing what visitors have to say.