Thursday, April 08, 2010

574 - How to Train Your Dragon review

“How to Train Your Dragon” is a cute CGI fantasy about a boy and his dog. In this case, the boy’s a Viking teenager who just can’t impress his warrior king father, and the dog’s a fire-breathing dragon so speedy that it’s a blur when it strafes the local village. If dragons were real and in abundance today, would we be keeping them as pets? Consider the stir caused when that “domesticated” gorilla mauled that woman. Now think of a flying animal five times the size that spits flame.

To a point, I’ve been spoiled by Pixar. After films like “WALL-E” and “Up,” I tend to think of animation in terms of beautiful, gloriously mature films that are so ingeniously crafted that it’s hard to believe a child could appreciate the splendor as much as an adult. “How to Train Your Dragon,” from Dreamworks, aspires to no such heights of cinematic bliss; it’s a children’s film, designed for and aimed squarely at the kids.

Its hero is Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, who must be having a good year because he starred in the last film I reviewed for the Courier), a boy somewhat out of place as a Viking. He’d perhaps be a bit better at being a hippy, because the threat of violence scares the dickens out of him. Kids today can get away with being wieners, but when your father is Stoick (Gerard Butler), a mighty Viking who has been slaying dragons since toddlerhood, pacifism seems like an Achilles ’ heel. These Vikings, who speak English in either Scottish or American accents, are engaged in perpetual war against the dragons over a miserable spot of land with no apparent advantages. Why battle these beasts over such real estate? Well, they are Vikings!

Hiccup starts his first day of dragon slaying lessons as the most under qualified student, barely able to hold onto a shield as it receives literal fire from the training creatures. Not to worry, though. Hiccup scores a lucky shot with a net launcher and captures the most dangerous known dragon, a sleek, coal-colored beast he names Toothless. Turns out that dragons ain’t so bad. They’re just misunderstood creatures, kindly and obedient once someone takes the time to feed them fish and scratch their belly. Why did no one discover this until now? Well, they are Vikings!

While not as visually dazzling as one of the aforementioned Pixar films, “How to Train Your Dragon” is imbued with a sleek design and a few breathtaking moments of excitement. As the dragons soar through the air and duel with spurts of flame, the film’s status as a kid’s flick can be forgotten amongst the excitement. There’s not much to be said about the characters, who do exactly what these sort of characters do in kids’ movies, or the story, which goes where even the youngest viewer could flawlessly anticipate. It’s a foregone conclusion that tragedy will be averted, the more villainous dragons will be slain, and the Vikings will master the art of dragon taming, leaving them time to pursue more productive endeavors. Like killing other humans. Well, they are Vikings!

3 out of 5

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