Friday, June 24, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon

Based on Cressida Cowell’s book, How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of a young Viking teenager who captures a mysterious dragon in hopes to gain acceptance from his father and tribe. Instead, he befriends the dragon whom he starts to care for and help create a prosthetic tail to help him fly. Directed Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois with an adapted script by Sanders, DeBlois, and Will Davies. The computer-animated film is among one of Dreamworks Animations finest projects to date eschewing their more entertaining stories for something more profound. With a voice cast that includes Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller, and Craig Ferguson. How to Train Your Dragon is a thrilling yet heartwarming film from Dreamworks Animation studio.

All Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) ever wanted was to win the approval of his Viking chief father Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) yet always end up causing trouble with his strange ideas. While he works as an apprentice for the blacksmith Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson), Hiccup wants to prove himself by capturing and kill a dragon as the island he and other Vikings live in are often under attack by dragons. The most dangerous dragon is the Night Fury whose speed and fire power is beyond anything that other dragons could do. Hiccup manages to capture one as he later finds the dragon only to realize that it’s afraid as he lets it go only to realize it lost part of its tail. With Stoick asking Gobber to train Hiccup to attack dragons as he goes on shore leave to find the nest, Hiccup reluctantly takes part in dragon training.

During his time with the Night Fury whom he calls Toothless, Hiccup learns about the dragon where he uses his knowledge to deal with other dragons during his training. Once the trouble-making outcast, Hiccup becomes the top student of dragon training though Astrid (America Ferrera) seems suspicious over Hiccup’s frequent disappearances. With Stoick learning about Hiccup’s progress at dragon training, he seems impressed as he hopes Hiccup will kill his first dragon. When Astrid discovers Hiccup’s secret that included creating a prosthetic tail for Toothless, the two make an even bigger discovery during an impromptu flight to the dragon lair. When Stoick eventually learns what Hiccup had been doing all along and the dragon’s nest, he makes a trip to the lair with a captured Toothless. Realizing that his father is walking towards danger, it’s up to Hiccup, Astrid, their friends, and other dragons to help out.

Since Dreamworks Animations founding in 1998 with its first film Antz, which was a computer-animated film, the studio has been making films that always try to provide a much more family-friendly kind of entertainment towards its audience. Yet, those films have often been peppered with pop culture references to keep younger audiences excited but always tend to lose focus for the story. With this film, directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois along with co-screenwriter Will Davies stray from that kind of humor for something much more profound while retaining some of the humor that has kept Dreamworks Animation successful.

Since the film is about a young Viking teenager trying to win his father’s approval while befriending a dragon. The character of Hiccup is one filled with conflict since he suddenly cares for this dragon that he’s captured and help make it fly again by creating a prosthetic tail. Yet, he also wants to prove to the Vikings that everything they knew about dragons were wrong while wanting his father to accept him. Yet, the character of Stoick isn’t a one-dimensional father that is very ignorant and wanting his son to be like him. He’s also someone who is unsure if he’s raising him right while wanting to protect him from all sorts of danger. The emphasis on character development and creating something more full-fledge allows the story to progress without having to dwell into any tricks. The dragons that Hiccup encounters, notably Toothless, have a personality all to their own which helps Hiccup understand these creatures.

The direction of the film by Sanders and DeBlois is truly spectacular as they go for something that is both rough in its landscapes but also broader in its scope. Taking on a much more textured look for the rocks and caverns plus the islands that Hiccup and Toothless encounter, there is a more life-like feel to the way these landscapes look that is similar to what Pixar studios have done. Still, Sanders and DeBlois do retain a cartoonish look to the characters and the dragons while making them seem a bit real and lively. The overall work in the animation and look to the film is phenomenal as Sanders and DeBlois create a moving yet visually-dazzling film.

Helping the directors to create the lighting and visual beauty of the film is renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins. Known mostly for his work with the Coen Brothers and having contributed his services to Pixar’s 2008 film WALL-E. Deakins work as a visual consultant help give the film a look that is livelier and more realistic that strays away from the cartoonish look of previous films. The overall look and photography that Deakins provides is truly amazing. Editors Maryann Brandon and Darren T. Holmes do some excellent work with the editing by creating some intense, fast-paced cuts for some of the flying scenes and action sequences while maintaining a leisured, straightforward approach for the dramatic moments of the film.

Production designer Kathy Altieri and art director Pierre-Olivier Vincent do a superb job with the look of the island and its homes along with the dome where Hiccup and his friends train in and the secret nest that Toothless takes Hiccup and Astrid to. Sound designer Randy Thom and sound editor Jonathan Null do great work in the sound from the fire-breathing sounds of the dragons to the creaking of ships in the sea for its climatic battle. The film’s score by John Powell is definitely a major highlight of the film as Powell’s score is filled with sweeping orchestral arrangements with bombastic rhythms. Even as he fills the scores with layers of Scottish bagpipes and other woodwinds to add flair and emotion to the musical pieces. Also in the film’s soundtrack is Jonsi’s Sticks & Stones which is a wonderful companion piece that is played during the final credits.

The voice is cast is definitely brilliant as it features small voice roles from Ashley Jensen and David Tennant as a couple of Vikings while Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller are funny as the battling twins Ruffnot and Tuffnot, respectively. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is very good as the nervous but book-smart Fishlegs while Jonah Hill is excellent as the arrogant but dim Snotlout. America Ferrera is wonderful as Astrid, a tough Viking girl who discovers Hiccup’s secret while learning why the dragons were trying to steal food from the Vikings. Craig Ferguson is great in a very funny role as peg-legged and one-armed Gobber, a blacksmith who tries to help Stoick about Hiccup while teaching the young boy about dragons and such.

Gerard Butler is brilliant as Stoick, a Viking leader who wants to protect Hiccup while trying to make him into a great Viking warrior only to realize how different he is. Finally, there’s Jay Baruchel who is amazing in providing the voice for Hiccup as Baruchel brings a sense of confusing and curiosity to a young boy striving to win his father’s approval. Particularly as he gains understanding about the creatures he’s learned to hunt for only to have a bigger appreciation for them.

How to Train Your Dragon is a marvelous film from Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois that truly brings not just a wonderful sense of entertainment but with a story that is touching and engaging. With a great visual look and a superb score from John Powell, it is definitely a film that truly can go toe-to-toe with the array of great films that Pixar has made since the mid-1990s. In comparison to the films that Dreamworks Animation has made, this film is undoubtedly their best film so far as How to Train Your Dragon is a stunning achievement for that studio.

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

This was a fun and heartfelt Dreamworks film that has some of the best flying scenes I have ever seen since Avatar, and just an overall fun feel to it. Good Review!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. Of all the films I've seen from Dreamworks Animation, this is my favorite. It's not just that they created a great story but actually did something with it without adding the usual pop culture references often seen in their other films.