You’re probably saying to yourself “What? Why would he write a review of How to Train Your Dragon? Why did he even watch How to Train Your Dragon?” You know what? Life works in mysterious ways, and God does not always provide us with answers to these types of questions. Surely in the next life as Saint Peter opens the pearly gates for us he will whisper in our ears the wherefores of all questions that have plagued us in life. Only then will you learn that I watched How to Train Your Dragon because a lot of people I have never met have said really good things on podcasts (the source of most of my film consumption). But until then you will have to settle for my opinion of the film.
I liked How to Train Your Dragon quite a bit.
Oh. More? Well for starters the animation is really good. And really realistic. Sure everything looks pretty cartoonish, but the way that the characters move lends a sense of realism to the film. It was enough to make me wonder if motion-capture was involved in the production. The fire animation is also great: really lively and dynamic. I was impressed by all of this, especially considering that the movie came out almost four years ago, so some of the methods are bound to be outdated by now.
The movie doesn’t slouch in the story department. It is a coming-of-age tale (ugh, another one? I know, right?) about a young Viking who just doesn’t fit in with his peers. His village is constantly being besieged by dragons, so things get pretty complicated when our hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), befriends one of the flying lizards. It all sounds kind of rote and Romeo-and-Juliet-y, but it works here. Obviously the central relationship isn’t the typical romance you might find in a coming of age movie (however there is a pretty entertaining courtship process). I found the movie most interesting in its treatment of the relationship between Hiccup and his father (Gerard Butler), a single parent just trying to make things work. Both characters want to appease the other – Hiccup tries to be something he’s not for his father’s sake, and his father just wants to prepare his son for the horrors of the world. Neither man can connect with the other, which is a problem most people can identify with on some level.
The performances are pretty good, for the most part. Jay Baruchel’s Jay-Baruchel-ing around gets a little grating by the movie’s halfway point, but the filmmakers step off the gas in the quippiness department in the second half. They exchange this for moments of sincerity that don’t feel nearly as flat as they could. This is helped (surprisingly) by Gerard Butler, who gives a real sense of conflicted fatherhood in a pretty small role. Some of the younger Viking vocal performances (Jonah Hill, Christpher Mintz-Plasse) are pretty distracting at the outset, but you get used to them eventually.
One of the big standouts people talk about is how exciting the flying scenes are in the film. I don’t think I got the best sense of this from watching on my computer screen. I suppose that is why God made sequels. Regardless, when I attain my eternal reward the first thing I plan to do is sit down with the Big Guy and see this movie the way it was meant to be seen: on a big screen made of clouds. Saint Peter can bring the popcorn.