Richard’s Year of Movies — How to Train Your Dragon

First, a bit of an explanation.  It’s not like I haven’t been watching movies at all since the last one of these.  But like I said before, I’m only commenting on films I’ve watched in their entirety from start to finish, and lately, I’ve been the flipper king, catching stuff halfway through and sticking around.  Plus my Netflix queue is working its way through a couple of TV shows, so no movies coming from there.

Anyway, on to How to Train Your Dragon, or as I like to call it, Dreamworks Finally Gets It.  Now, I haven’t seen Kung Fu Panda (yeah, yeah, it’s in my Netflix queue), but all the Dreamworks animated films I’ve seen have felt too manufactured, too much like they got a couple of stars on board and then worried about coming up with a story for them to be in.  And those stories were usually too reliant on pop culture references and the personalities of those stars to have that timeless feel of the classic Disney films and the Pixar films.

How to Train Your Dragon could have been a Pixar film.

There’s the still that Dreamworks irreverence, but it’s reined in, used in a way that complements the setting and story rather than stomping all over it.  It’s got three really great emotional relationships at the heart of it (boy/girl, boy/father, and boy/dragon) that don’t ever feel treacly or false.  And it’s as exciting an adventure story as anything that’s come along recently, while using its 3D to complement everything rather than a cheap add-on.  There are moments of lyrical beauty here that are almost incidental; they’re not lingered on in a “Hey look at me fashion”, but just part of the palette of the picture.

The animation is top-notch too.  Great detail, but that’s just rendering for the most part.  These characters do so much purely visually, be it a look, or a setting of the shoulders, or a cocking of the head.  Everyone’s incredibly expressive, and it really helps draw you in.  There’s also some great work in the climax, with fog and water and fire and clouds all swirling about the characters, and a monster at the end that is invested with true mass and heft and really feels like the “HOLY CRAP!” threat its supposed to be.

And I love the score.  John Powell’s been on my radar since he teamed up with Harry Gregson-Williams for Shrek and Chicken Run, but his work here is just stellar.  Rousing when it needs to be, but able to retreat and be understated when the moment calls for it, it’s a great sprawling score that’ll keep you sitting through the credits just to listen to it.  I downloaded it from Amazon as soon as I got home.

I think the most telling thing about this film is how absolutely by-the-book it made the Toy Story 3 trailer that played before it look.  Now, I love Toy Story and its sequel, and I’m a Pixar acolyte, but seeing Buzz Lightyear dancing around with a Spanish accent (along with the fact that we’re sequels to both Cars and Monsters Inc.), and then seeing Hiccup and Toothless soar through the clouds — well, it made Pixar look a little ordinary.  And I never thought I’d see the day where I said that.

It’s a great movie for kids, it’s a great movie for anyone that used to be a kid, it’s just a great movie.

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