Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Fantasy at its best

With a heartfelt storyline and humorous dialogue, this dragon-themed 3D animation has soul

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

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It is in 3D and features flying dragons. And no, it is not Avatar ... in the best possible way. How to Train Your Dragon harks back to the glory days of production company DreamWorks’ first Shrek (2001) movie, with its light touch and assured handling of fantasy themes in a way that neither condescends to children or insults the intelligence of adult audiences.

The new 3D technology that has come into the world with such fanfare in Avatar is clearly going to ensure many more movies with flying creatures swooping about weird and wonderful landscapes. The gimmick of having any and everything on screen being thrown toward the audience for cheap 3D thrills is already a thing of the past, and the most appealing thing about its presence in How to Train Your Dragon is that you quite quickly can forget about it and get on with enjoying the story. 3D might provide a more immersing visual experience, but it is definitely not enough to make up for the lack of a good story.

Like the best of these high-tech animation features, there is a good solid story at the center of How to Train Your Dragon. That the storyline works is really no surprise, for this is a narrative that has been evolving over thousands of years and is rooted in the great myths of ancient civilization.

Weakling child is an outsider in his own community. He discovers a magical item, in this case a dragon, and through ingenuity rather than strength, learns to harness its power. He returns to his community to lead them to victory against a great threat, wins the girl and becomes a great king.

What the team at DreamWorks has done is given this ancient structure a contemporary gloss, thrown in some witty dialogue, referenced some contemporary issues, created some instantly recognizable character types (which incidentally are tailor-made for merchandising) and then let the visual spectacle and breakneck pace take care of the rest.

FILM NOTES

How to Train Your Dragon

DIRECTED BY: Dean DeBloise and Chris Sanders

STARRING: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), America Ferrera (Astrid), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut)

RUNNING TIME: 98 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY


The story is set in a “Viking” community — though oddly enough, these Vikings all seem to speak some species of Scottish. The community is isolated, the weather is vile, and it is constantly attacked by dragons. Everyone is a warrior, except Hiccup, the weakling son of the clan chief.

In his effort to become a dragon killer, Hiccup accidentally captures one of the most fearsome types of dragon. The fact that this dragon is modeled after the character of Stitch from Lilo and Stitch (2002) and is more cute than fearsome is clearly intentional, allowing the film to appeal to a younger demographic than say something like Eragon (2006), with which it shares some superficial dragon-tamer themes.

Hiccup’s father is Stoick, a huge warrior who is committed to defending his people from the dragons and is not a little ashamed of his son. He is voiced by Gerard Butler, who does himself considerably more credit as a voice artist behind a lovingly created animated character than he does as an actor in The Bounty Hunter, which also opens today.

The relationship between father and son is deftly handled, as is the love interest between Hiccup and the leggy Astrid, who wants nothing better than to beat the boys at the dragon-fighting game. She wants to be a warrior, and is more than a little put off by Hiccup’s wimpy ways with dragons, as he learns to calm them rather than kill them. Other children characters include the cowardly and narcissistic jock Snotlout, the oafish Fishlegs, who has the specifications of each species of dragon at his fingertips (gamer style), and the constantly bickering twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut.

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