How to Train Your
has a weird moral. Maybe it's an unintended one. But, for a
move that is propped up so heavily on a message of tolerance
and taking the time to understand, it's strange. The fancy 3-D
doesn't make it any clearer or deeper, just more expensive.
In the film, dragons repeatedly attack a Scottish-brogued Icelandic
village of Vikings. Every night the dragons shoot out of the
sky, steal the livestock and burn down the houses. The Norsemen
fight back, taking out as many of the reptiles as they can before
getting eaten. Yet, the dragons relentlessly come back every
night. Sort of like my cravings for Fig Newtons with gravy.
The dragons are the
best part of the movie. They are the most creative aspect with
diversity, detail and a range of looks that is fun to look at.
They range from Godzilla-like behemoths to sleek, black geckos
with wings. Their expressiveness and range of weapons are damn
cool. The range of characterization is the most amusing part
of the movie.
The weird moral,
though, is that How to Train Your Dragon teaches kiddies
that all the attacking dragons really need is a little love.
See, the dragons aren't really trying to hurt the village. They're
just defending themselves while gathering food to sacrifice
to an even meaner dragon who terrorizes them. What's weird is
that the movie says that the Vikings shouldn't kill the dragons;
it should understand and befriend them. But, it also says they
should kill the bigger dragon, which apparently isn't worth
understanding. Sort of like the people on those shows about
celebrity drug addicts.
What if the movie
were an epic, maybe six hours longer, the Shoah of animated
dragon movies. Maybe the Vikings would learn more about the
big dragon and find what in its past turned it into a bully.
Then they would choose not to kill it either. Perhaps it had
an abusive mother, so the warriors could go after the mom, only
to learn that Mom had lived through the Great Depression, invested
in Icelandic banks, or had jake leg. Then they could attack
those societal woes. And eventually, it would circle back to
themselves, and they'd have to look in the mirror and decide
whether they are worth rehabilitating.
Other than a truncated
moral, though, How to Train Your Dragon is a good example
of what moviemakers can do with formulaic material if they try
just a little to differentiate it. I compare it to Avatar
in that both have preachy, simplistic stories. Both primarily
exist as vehicles for dazzling computer effects. How to Train
Your Dragon, though, works its story well within its genre
and makes an effort to outline characters a bit more finely
than "Here is a good guy because he's primitive, and here is
a bad guy because he's got shiny hair." There is no Unobtanium
and nobody grumbles, "I didn't sign up for this shit."
To be fair, the characters
of How to Train Your Dragon are from a template you've
seen before. The hero is a whiny, scrawny kid voiced by the
whiny, scrawny Jay Baruchel. His father (Gerard Butler), the
village leader and an upside-down-pyramid-shaped brute, wishes
his boy were bigger and tougher. Bullies mock Baruchel for his
wimpiness and he'd love to prove them wrong. There is a tomboy
that Baruchel secretly likes, and who grows to love him for
who he is. When Baruchel catches a dragon, he doesn't have the
balls to kill it, and instead discovers that all it needs is
a little tenderness. He is rewarded with friendship and loyalty.
We've seen this story before.
Yet, How to Train
Your Dragon gets mileage from it by adding a few unexpected
jokes and twists. Baruchel doesn't escape from the final battle
unscathed. Not a single gag has to do with farting. The main
dragon, Toothless, is charming, amusing and surprisingly vicious.
He's like a well-described puppy. He is my favorite character
in the movie.
The final act of
the movie is action heavy, and pretty well done. The premise
is the Vikings track down the dragon nest and travel to it to
battle, only to encounter the huge Godzilla. There is a load
of aerial battle, which works with the 3-D. It is more artfully
rendered than most Dreamworks animated shit, which typically
feels like it's condescending to little kids, as though the
people making the movie don't even appreciate the limitless
of the format. Also, this is the first Dreamworks animated flcik
that didn't rely on lame pop-culture gags. Kids don't give a
fuck about Britney Spears jokes.
The people, though,
look bland. There is little visual imagination in the lead or
his friends. They look like the kids in every computer-animated
flick. There is also a dearth of women. Beyond Baruchel's love
interest, I can't remember a single line spoken by a girl. I
guess there is one old, silent woman. The adult men are more
interesting to look at, mostly because they have huge, grizzly
How to Train Your
Dragon works. It works in 3-D and it might even work in
2-D. It's sort of nice to know someone knows how to squander
a massive budget and have a plot. Three Fingers.
to tell Filthy Something?