Harry was shocked to learn HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON in 3D today!
Trailers are amazing things. Take for example the trailers for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - which beginning with the title, I wasn't thrilled with. There's something about the trailer that just feels bland & flavorless. It seems to be a story about a boy that shot down a dragon, they became friends & that's about it.
What is missing is the soul of the film, now ordinarily I'd expect more than a trailer's worth of depth, but Dreamworks Animation sometimes makes moves that are as bland as the trailers. That's how I feel about the SHREK movies and especially last year's MONSTERS VS ALIENS. The trailers tend to be made up of unconnected gags rather than story. But when I looked at the filmography of the directors for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, well... it is just LILO & STITCH. Now, I don't know about you, but I LOOOOOOVE that film. Not that animated television series, but the movie. It had heart, soul, story, originality and was just the sort of animated film that I love.
I hoped that spirit would be found in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, but with a title as "Goofy" as that.. it's practically screaming to be gagged to the max. Thankfully, no.
I yanked myself out of bed this morning after a long, intoxicating night of cinema, which is how I tend to spend every Sunday night. As a result, I only received about three & half hours of sleep prior to awakening for this Monday morning treat. The Alamo Village had mercifully brewed yummy coffee this morning, and after a cup o' joe, it was time to catch the latest from the LILO & STITCH pair.
Most of the trailer you've seen is from a microscopic portion of the tale. A part of the film that's actually around 45 minutes or so in. What isn't in the trailer is anything that really relates to the characters.
The unfortunately named prince of the Viking community, Hiccup, is a wisp of a lad. Bones with a side of meat, whereas the typical Viking in this land is beefy, meaty and built like a human tank. The vikings thirst for Dragon blood, killing Dragons is their life. Well, that and boasting about killing dragons and drinking mead.
On a purely animation and character design level, the viking community felt and looked like something that GROO THE WANDERER could've felt at home at. The matted hair, the textures, the shadows - all darker than we're used to. I loved the animated Viking homes, weapons and ornamentations. This isn't anything close to real, nor should it be, this is a fantasy Viking land. Something that will be a bit of a primer for Branagh's THOR, then later with Mel Gibson's Viking epic. My brethren will be well-represented in cinema over the coming years.
Now, Hiccup is rearing to kill dragons. His father, Stoick, is voiced by Gerard Butler perfectly. He sounds like a viking. Whereas Hiccup is voiced by Jay Baruchel, who is such a wimp, Harry Knowles beat him up in FANBOYS last year. How's a guy that I can whup, gonna whup a Dragon's ass?
Naturally, he can't. He's a softhearted fella at his core. He's not there to kill, he just wasn't given that cold killing gene that his father is so proud of.
At no point is this film really about Training a Dragon. It's more about Hiccup being trained to kill dragons, even as he has secretly been nursing back to health and learning to ride and fly with his downed dragon that he has named TOOTHLESS.
The result is a fascinating coming of age adventure fantasy story that could be a bit intense for the most delicate of youngsters, but for most will be a joy to behold.
The first question that I was asked upon revealing that I had seen HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and declared it amongst the best of Dreamworks Animation - was... How does it compare to KUNG FU PANDA?
First off, while I saw the film in 3D today, it wasn't quite complete. The score was the pre-record version, not the full orchestra recording that will soon exist. Also at several points, unfinished animation was there. But as is, I found the film to be every bit as emotional, thrilling and fun as KUNG FU PANDA. It is completely different.
For one, this is a story about an amazing pet. A rescued, wounded pet that other people wouldn't respect, understand or allow one to keep. This is a deadly creature. In fact, this isn't just any ol dragon, but a legendary creature that had never even been glimpsed. In this land, there are a large variety of dragons, each with their own particular eccentricities.
My favorite character is, as hard as it will be to believe, Craig Ferguson's Gobber, the blacksmith and former great killer of Dragons. He plays Hiccup's teacher... for one, Hiccup has worked with Gobber as an apprentice in the arts of a Blacksmith, but when Stoick takes the warriors on an expedition to find the Dragon's nest and kill them all, Gobber is asked to teach the next generation of Vikings to kill dragons. Something that Hiccup has a growing discomfort in doing.
Gobber is missing an arm & a leg. He's created a few devices that he can plug into place to make life easier. And in a lesser film, you would've seen a scene of Gobber's collection of hand and leg attachments. Instead, we get introduced to his drinking attachment organically and in use. You never see him switch these out. The result is always surprising and fun. But more so, the biting wit and humor of Gobber's dialogue is killer funny. There's one moment where you think he's going to sagely calm Hiccup's neurosis about his father, when it suddenly takes a left turn to stab poor Hiccup to the core. He's just a great character, something that I didn't expect from Craig Ferguson.
There's a slight romantic story between Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) that is tender and smart and works. In fact, it all works here. DeBlois & Sanders have a great touch. The animation is often beautiful and stunning. The flight sequence when Hiccup introduces Astrid to Toothless is beautiful. More balletic & soaring than the Banshees, the dream of riding a dragon.
It is that sequence above all others in the film that sets this film apart. I'd compare it to that first big flight sequence from THE ROCKETEER for sheer joy of flight. Very Miyazaki. There's a shot where we keep our characters level, while only the horizon tumbles - it was one of those shots where you notice your jaw hanging open and the corners of your mouth trapped in a smile. I really want to fly astride a dragon.
The film is opening against CLASH OF THE TITANS on March 26th, and honestly... Parents of kids in their early teens are going to have a great day that day, I bet. I haven't seen CLASH yet, but HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON will play to young kids exceptionally well, and the older CLASH kids will go nuts for that.
The final little note that I have on the film is this. While there's no listed Director of Photography on HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, the man they had advising them throughout on the film is Roger Deakins and it shows. Especially in the bright sunlit scenes and then later in the dark shadowy sequences, which were not afraid of using BLACK as a base. As an ol' gaffer in New Zealand once said, "Do ya want it bright & shiny or Dark & interesting?" The Dark & Interestingly lit scenes are really something. The 3D was pretty spectacular. I look forward to seeing this finished and at the IMAX.
This is going to make DREAMWORKS ANIMATION a mint, at least I hope so. This is very much a story over gags film, with no potty humor. I'm told that we'll soon be seeing a trailer that is more indicative of the film shortly. I hope so, because I barely had the desire to see it this morning, whereas now, I'm 100% on board the film. This is a wonderful fantasy that kids can enjoy, despite the fact that Adults will have even more fun with it. In that respect, it did remind me of KUNG FU PANDA.