REVIEW: How To Train Your Dragon

Go see it! Take your kids, take your friends, take your granny… its awesome!

What? You were expecting more of a review? Ok…

It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Dreamworks, with the next installment of the Shrek series on its way and this month’s ‘How To Train Your Dragon’. With Shrek such a booming franchise, its easy to think that this adaptation of Brit writers Kids-lit book might come out as the poor realation but that’s turns out to be far from the case!

I can’t really describe why, but there is something that really appeals to me about Dreamworks latest animated outing. Yes, it – like the series of books from which it takes its name – is for kids. Yes, the plot – translated to the screen by “Lilo and Stitch” team, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois – is a little standard. And yes, its not the same as the Cressida Cowell novel in which it is based, instead appearing to be more like a prequel to the novels. But, with all that said, I found something truly endearing about this dragon filled Viking romp.

There is no doubt that the look of the film offers a healthy does of eye-candy, from the beautifully rendered scenery (did anyone else drool over the look of the seas surrounding the island of Berk or was that just me?) to the thoughtfully designed characters to the wonderfully quirky look of the dragons themselves. The modelling, visual effects and texturing in the film is incredible, with water, hair and fire being virtually photo-realistic, but the movie also has a definite stylized aesthetic and its creators have, it seems, made a conscious effort to move away from the Hollywood-standard in ‘dramatic dragon design’.

Created by “Kung Fu Panda” Character Designer, Nico Marlet, the dragons are reminiscent of Quentin Blake illustrations, and certainly aren’t the majestic, ethereal beasts but more akin to children’s monsters. They are all at once angular, disproportionate, colourful and comic, making them both suitably scary and yet amazingly charismatic. Unlike Dragonheart’s Draco and Hobbits Smouge, these fiery fiends are not humans in dragons clothing! Instead they behave like real, believable animals. Though Hiccup maybe the hero of the film, it is the wonderfully named dragon, Toothless, that steals the show! A breed known as the Nightfury (Yes, yes, I know he wasn’t that breed in the book!), Toothless, designed by Chris Sanders, is the least colourful of the dragons that appear and yet he is by far the most appealing. No doubt some of this appeal is due to his large yellow-green eyes, but more, I think, is due to the fabulous animation that makes him so likable. Toothless’ actions must be familiar to any cat or dog owner. Though much of his look, such as his stumpy legs and face, and some of his movements – his walk is very lizard-like – is obviously reptilian, much of his behaviour is both feline and canine. This means that, thanks to animators Simon Otto and Gabe Hordos, Toothless appears grumpy cat and playful puppy, and is every bit as much ultimate kids pet and playmate as the monster under the bed.

The characters are beautifully drawn in more ways then one too and it goes towards the films sterling calibre. The dialogue is funny, witty and often moving, a wonderful combination of a tightly written script and the vocal work of actors including Gerald Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera. The relationships in the story may be between Vikings and Vikings and dragons but they are still familiar enough to be touching; Toothless’ panic to get to and save Hiccup from the Monstrous Nightmare and Hiccups powerlessness and distress to save the captured Toothless, truly tugs at the heart strings and the struggle of Stoic to understand and respect his unfathomable child is all too poignant.

Ok, I admit it, I fell in love with this film! I have seen it twice – within a week, ahem! – and will confess to still being smitten. Yes, some of the humour is physical and childish, and the story not mould shatteringly original. I also concede that it may not be to every one’s taste and is not true to Cowell’s book. However, its healthy dose of good natured slap stick, fast paced action, real drama and the small pinch of Dreamwork’s delightfully dry trademark humour, has certainly sold me!

The only thing is… why exactly are most of the vikings Scottish?