Thursday, April 1, 2010

Film Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Writer: William Davies, Peter Tolan, Christopher Sanders, Dean DeBlois; based on a book by Cressida Cowell
Director: Christopher Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Voice cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Older children's animation, 1 hour 38 minutes

Having griped about the how the industry is wasting the goodwill towards 3D cinema in the wake of Avatar, I must say that How to Train Your Dragon is a very good movie. Unfortunately, theatres decided to introduce a price increase upon its release. That may have had a dampening effect on its opening weekend results, a respectable $43.3 million, but a disappointment compared to the same weekend last year when another 3D animated film Monsters vs. Aliens took $59.3 million.

But it is a true 3D film and doesn't have the issues of retroactive 3D that Alice and Wonderland and Clash of the Titans has. It's also not a huge disappointment simply as a movie as are those two. No, this Dreamworks film matches the quality of last year's Up by the reliably outstanding Pixar. How to Train Your Dragon already has to be an early contender for best animated film of the year.

The setting is the viking island of Berk, where Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the disappointingly weak son of the Chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).  They are regularly attacked by dragons, but he isn't allowed to participate in the battles against them. He can only apprentice under the blacksmith Gobber the Belch (a hilarious Craig Ferguson). Despite everyone's low expectations of him, he manages to capture the most elusive and feared of the dragon family. When he finds he is incapable of killing the dragon, he builds and understanding and bond with the animal.

The story is reminiscent of Dubois and Sanders' previous collaboration Lilo & Stitch, but that's not such a bad thing. They do solid work and the animation is of high quality. The 3D aspect isn't spectacular, but neither is it a detraction as with the aforementioned retrofitted 3D films.

The actors do well and are well-chosen. I like the fact that they chose America Ferrera to play the love interest Astrid. It's animation after all, and there's no reason to choose the usual blond bimbo. It was an odd choice to go with a Scots burr with the adults when the younger actors have normal North American accents, but it works. Ferguson gets a lot of laughs and even Butler contributes to the hilarity, especially with a scene where he bestows a gift to Hiccup.

I still think it's a shame that the studios are tarnishing the reputation of 3D with their ill-conceived decisions. But it is the way of the future. Avatar is still the best 3D film in theatres right now. If you haven't seen it yet, you should. If you have, then the only other one worth seeing at the moment is How to Train Your Dragon.

Some potentially frightening scenes. Not suitable for very young children.

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