How to Train Your Dragon | Chris Sanders and Dean Dublois, 2010
When talking about a Dreamworks animation movie it is almost impossible to avoid bringing up Pixar. I mean how could it not be since Dreamworks has been second banana to Pixar ever since they joined the CG animation world, despite being more financially successful. Every once in a while they hit the right notes and produce something that stand apart from all of their other films and recall the glory of the studio during the late 90s, before Shrek came on the scene. But for every one of these there is a Shark Tale, a Madagascar, and a Shrek the Third. How to Train Your Dragon is one of those instances where everything aligns in place to bring us an exceptional movie.
Dragon takes place in the world of the Vikings. In one particular village, they have a great problem with dragons, who come nearly every night to steal their sheep and cause a lot of mayhem. So, their Vikings make it their business to kill dragons. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the son of their leader. And as you can expect with someone named hiccup, he’s not like the others. He’s skinny and clumsy, but eager and smart, but that doesn’t get him very far in a world where strength is all that matters. One day, he captures the most dangerous dragon of all, but of course no one saw him and no one believes him. When he goes out to kill the dragon, he sees that the creatures is just as afrad of him as he is of it. Over time, he bonds with the dragon, who he names Toothless and realizes that everything his people know about dragons is wrong and must find a way to make the others understand before they do something they might regret.
If there is one weakness to the movie, it is that we’ve see the story about a thousand times before. It is a mixture of those “a boy and his dog” and “be yourself” stories. But Writer/Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DuBlois, who also made Lilo & Stitch, one of my favorite animated movies of the past decade, make it fresh and exciting. While there are some modern attitudes brought in for the sake of connecting with the audience, pop culture references are non-existent and the dialogue is rather strong and believable. And unlike any Dreamworks movie in the last few years, there are some moments of beauty filled with little to no dialogue, like the scene where Hiccup is bonding with Toothless. Also, props to them for not having the dragons talk and for causing a little harm to the main character in the end.
As for the voice performances, they are excellent throughout. When I first saw the trailer, I was worried that Jay Baruchel would be annoying, but it turns out that he was perfectly cast. Gerard Butler gives his best performance ever as Hiccup’s father. He puts all the emotion that he has lacked in his other movies into this character. We also have America Ferrera as the love interest and Craig Ferguson as the wise, but quirky mentor to Hiccup, and they do a fine job as well.
The animation is also excellent and it is easily the most aesthetically pleasing Dreamworks Animation movie to date. The great Roger Deakins was a visual consultant here (like with WALL-E), and his influences shows (even more so that with WALL-E). Also, the character design is amazing, especially the different dragons. I must also mention John Powell’s score. I’m not usually a fan of his work, unless it is a collaboration like Kung Fu Panda, but his music here is excellent, easily his best
So, without a doubt, How to Train Your Dragon is the best Post-2000, non-Aardman, Dreamworks Animation movie. In fact, it is something that I would rank among among some of Pixar’s movies. Is it better than this year’s Pixar offering, Toy Story 3? Hell no, but it is a fine piece of animation that stands as one of the best movies of the year. In fact, I can see it giving Pixar a run for its money for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and could end up taking one of the 10 Best Picture spots, and it would be a worthy nominee.