MOVIE REVIEW- <i>Dragon</i> delight: Animated film is best of '10, so far
You can look to the news to learn about changes in U.S. foreign policy, but you might learn more from the movies. First, Avatar had villains who invaded a sovereign nation to steal their precious minerals. Now, in How to Train Your Dragon the scary monster that threatens a not-exactly peace-loving people is tamed rather than slain. Yes, there's a new sheriff in the White House!
If you haven't been to the movies in a while, How to Train Your Dragon helps you catch up on what you've missed. This animated diary of a wimpy Viking features the voices of the stars of three March releases: Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League), Gerard Butler (The Bounty Hunter) and America Ferrera (Our Family Wedding).
There are scenes of people harnessing and riding fearsome creatures, not unlike the Banshees in Avatar or the Bandersnatch in Alice in Wonderland. Apart from Hiccup (Baruchel), the runt of the litter, all the Vikings– especially Stoick (Butler), their chief and Hiccup's father– are beefy guys with arms like Precious'. And speaking of Precious, the dragons all serve a big mother dragon with a temperament like Mo'Nique's in that film.
There's also a lot of talk about a dragon's "blind spot." Maybe they meant "blind side"? For retro fans, you have to go back to the 1978 Superman for a flying scene as romantic as the one where Hiccup takes Astrid (Ferrera) for a ride on the back of the dragon he's named Toothless.
Like most children's films, especially animated ones, a "different" child comes to earn his father's love and respect, when his difference proves to be an asset.
Hiccup is apprenticed to Gobber (Craig Ferguson– it's not explained why the adults' Scottish burrs aren't passed down to the younger generation), who tells him, "Stop trying so hard to be something you're not." But Stoick forces his son to go through Dragon Training, something like Percy Jackson's Camp Half Blood. There, he's taught how to kill dragons because "Killing a dragon is everything around here." A classmate, Snotlout (Jonah Hill) sizes up his fearsome opponents like a low-tech "Sherlock Holmes."
The lessons don't take on Hiccup. He doesn't want to kill dragons, even though it's a combination of sport and survival skill. One night, he shoots down a Night Fury, "the dragon no one's ever seen," immortalized in legend as "the unholy offspring of lightning and death itself." When he goes to finish it off, Hiccup looks into the dragon's eye in an amazing scene in which the animated characters' eyes show more emotion than those of any live actors.
They wind up bonding– gradually and secretly– as the culturally sensitive Hiccup learns the ways of various species of dragon, enabling him to overcome them in class without harming them.
There's a lot of fighting and roaring and breathing fire but very little killing and no bloodshed in this PG movie that may scare but shouldn't traumatize. I told the father of a five-year-old the only reason for not taking his son to see it is that he'll want a pet dragon afterward.
It's not much of a compliment, but How to Train Your Dragon is the best movie to come out of Hollywood in the first quarter of 2010. The actors do better work in bodies other than their own, probably because they have better material to work with; and if the technical elements aren't on a par with Avatar, they're about as good as anything that's been done in computer animation.
The lesson that understanding your enemy can lead to them not being your enemy should get through to the youngest viewer, but may be lost on parents who kept their kids home from school rather than risk having them "indoctrinated" by a speech from the President.
With this review, Steve Warren ends a long and positive association with the Hook–editor.