Friday, March 26, 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

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The guys who brought us a fuzzy blue genetic experiment designed to bring havoc bring us a sleek black fast, dangerous and endearing dragon in DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon.

Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought in about a year ago to get this story back on track. They bring us a story about understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, finding our place and challenging the accepted norm through a viking village and its residents that gets attacked by different dragon species. Because Dean and Chris were the creators of Disney's Lilo and Stitch, you'll see a number of resemblances between Stitch and the Night Fury dragon in both form and action.

Tickets for this show were available in 2D, Real 3D and IMAX at my local theater. I thought about the 3D for this film as there was some pre-buzz about how the 3D really added to this film which I hadn't heard anyone say for Alice in Wonderland and to a degree Avatar. Upon looking up information on Fandango there had been a change in 3D pricing that made me very unhappy and will write about later in another blog posting. The price for the 2D film had gone up too, only $0.25, so not too bad, with the bright side being now the loyalty points that I get for the film will be rounded up from 8 to 9 rewarding me with soda, popcorn and free movies faster!

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the son of the viking village leader, Stoick (Gerard Butler). While most of the male vikings look like offensive line football players, Hiccup is not that. Instead of getting any brawn, he's got the brains. To keep him safe Stoick has Hiccup work for Gobber (Craig Ferguson) as an apprentice in the metal shop. The other teens of the village Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, and twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut (America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, and Kristen Wiig respectively) are allowed to help battle the dragons with water as we know they can breathe fire and water puts out fire. Being this was back in the day they didn't have sodium bicarbonate foams to use. Being viking, they all aspire to be dragon slayers but are too young to tackle the killing part.

What adds to the depth and fun of the story is the details presented as to the different packages that dragons come in. Each has their own physical characteristics and methods for destruction. It is sort of like in a role playing game where some have strength, some speed, others very powerful fire breath and their weaknesses like only having so many shots of fire before they have to reload. I loved the different back stories of the distinctive types of dragons. If they don't have it out already with the release of the film, I'm sure that there is a card game like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh based on the array dragons presented in the film.

While wanting to fit into the role of a dragon slaying viking, Hiccup realizes he needs to do things differently. One of his inventions actually works and he lands a dragon but he doesn't have the heart to kill it to prove himself. By observation he learns about dragons and the way they act and behave which is nothing like the young vikings are now being taught in their dragon slaying classes by Gobber or by what's in the books. After becoming friendly Hiccup names him Toothless and helps him with a prosthetic tail wing.

Hiccups ends up enlightening the villagers on many levels. He has to work through the preconceived notions of what a viking is supposed to be with his Dad and Goober. On a different level he and Astrid work out what is bravery. When two forces oppose each other can they put down their differences to work for a common good? The story line emotionally works well. Toothless didn't "speak" except for some occasional growls but the animation of the face, especially the eyes, let you know what was happening within his mind and emotions. In the theater there were a number of laughs, a couple of gasps, some uh ohs and at one point someone yelled NOOOO!

Not seeing the movie in 3D affects my ability to say if they maximized the animation to it's fullest affect. The set designs with the landscapes and building designs were very good. The carvings and totems in the buildings were highly detailed as were the skin textures of the different dragons. There were even a couple of shots from the perspective looking up through the surface of water as compared to looking down into the water that were unique. The hair modeling, especially for the facial portion of the vikings was impressive. Stoik has a big red beard with knots and Goober had his blond mustache tied by material bands which were detailed where you could see individual hair strands and how they were twist or run through a bunch of gathered hair. Again, impressive. Hate to be the person who had to sit around and wait for the rendering to finish on those frames! They probably grew a beard themselves just waiting for the work to complete.

There were a few areas where I did have a problem. On a couple of occasions the movement of the characters and the lip sync weren't quite right. Within the plot there did seem to be some holes. Ancient vikings having no fear or apprehension of flying was one. The biggest being how Toothless ended up having lost part of his tail wings. It was glossed over probably because it would have lead to a much more complicated plot conflict they would have had to work out but didn't want to get bogged down in detail.

One other thing I did notice about this film was three of the main character voices have other movies currently in theaters this weekend. America Ferrera has Our family Wedding, Gerard Butler has The Bounty Hunter and Jay Baruchel is the main character in She's Out of My League. The beauty of doing voice acting!

The film runs 98 minutes and is rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language. Despite some flaws, there is something for everyone in the family to enjoy.

The Movie Monkey

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