I know the title is long, I wanted to make sure I made my point early.
We took the kids to see How to Train Your Dragon this weekend, finally, and I must say I was impressed. The animation was good, the story was great and I wasn't bored at all. When was the last time you could say that about a DreamWorks Animation movie? Maybe Wallace and Grommit?
Yes, I'm being harsh on DreamWorks, but you have to admit their animation offerings thus far have been decidedly weak. Look at the list on this page. Go on, do it. Okay, without cheating, can you tell me what Shark Tale was about? How about Bee Movie?
Now, can you name who starred in those movies? Probably, right? That seems to be the problem with their movies, they worry so much about who is going to be voicing the characters and don't seem to car about developing them. Again, I am factoring out the movies that Nick Park was involved in, okay? Sure, the movies are entertaining enough, but I never want to see them again. I've seen The Incredibles millions of times and I still watch it when it is on TV even when the kids aren't around. It's a good movie. Period. Sight gags and pop culture jokes can only take a movie so far. In my opinion, you need to care about the characters. Did you care if the Will Smith fish was rubbed out by the shark mob in Shark Tale? No, you were probably hoping he would since he was annoying. (I only remember that because the movie was on TV the other night. I watched 5 minutes.)
Here thar be spoilers!
Back to Dragon. Based on the series of books by Cressida Crowell, we meet Hiccup as he describes in a voice over about how is town is nice, except for the dragon attacks. Bam! Right into the story. Dragons are flying around burning the crap out of the buildings, stealing sheep and creating havoc. Hiccup is running around outside and all the Vikings are telling him to get back inside. He wants to help fight the dragons, but he's forced to help fixing the weapons that come back broken and bent. During a break in the action in the shop he sneaks out his special weapon and shoots it at a Night Fury dragon, a type that has been heard but never seen. He snares it, but nobody believes him.
The next day he manages to track down his catch, and when he raises his knife to kill the dragon, he can't do it. Instead he sets it free. The next day he goes back to try and figure out why the dragon didn't try to kill him, as his dragon slayer teacher says they always will. He finds the dragon in a canyon with steep walls. It turns out the dragon has lost part of it's tail and can't fly properly.
Over the course of the next few weeks (or however much time elapses) Hiccup befriends Toothless, his name for the dragon, and tries to help him fly again by building a replacement tail. As he is doing this, he's also learning how to fight dragons. He's quite terrible at it in the beginning, but after hanging around with toothless, he learns about dragons likes and dislikes and uses that to tame the dragons in the ring. At one point Toothless takes Hiccup to the nest of the dragons and Hiccup learns why they attack the village, but he knows he can't tell his father where the place is since the Vikings will destroy all the dragons. Over time he becomes a celebrity in the town, which shocks his dragon slayer master of a father, but he's happy to see his son following in his footsteps.
Problems arise when, in Hiccup's graduation ceremony, the dragon he is in the ring with gets spooked and goes on the attack. As Hiccup is screaming Toothless hears him and comes to his rescue and he is caught in the process. Hiccup ends up spilling the beans about the dragon's nest and the Vikings set off to find it and destroy it. Hiccup is left behind while Toothless is strapped to the ship and the Vikings set off to destroy the nest.
Enlisting the help of his friends, Hiccup takes the dragons that are used to train and they set off to the nest to stop his father from destroying the nest and probably getting killed in the process.
Upon landing at the nest site, the Vikings scare off the dragons and think it is all done until the earth starts to rumble and a giant dragon 10-20 times bigger than any other dragon comes out to attack. Hiccup and his friends arrive in time to help the Vikings out and go on the offensive against the giant dragon. After Toothless is freed by Hiccup's dad, a dramatic flight and fight scene is set in motion with Toothless saving hiccup in the last seconds as they both fall into a giant fireball. An intense ending to say the least. Maybe a bit intense for our 5 year-old daughter, but she was okay.
Sorry this was so long, but I wanted to show how this was a lasting movie. I will watch this again, I'm sure. I know this was taken form a series of books, but it seems to differ from the description I can find of the book. So, maybe DreamWorks can make a good, engaging animated movie. Maybe they need to start off with a story derived by somebody outside there company. Will they learn from this? It's tough to say as I see their next movies include another Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. Sigh. Let's hope they learn one thing from this movie, the story and characters are important; the celebrities voicing them, not so much.
So, yes, go see this if you haven't yet. Even if you don't have kids.