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“How to Train Your Dragon” surprises, charms and soars

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“How to Train Your Dragon” surprises, charms and soars

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As I was listening to the Vikings in “How to Train Your Dragon” talk about how vile & nasty dragons were … I couldn’t help but think about the attitude that some animation fans have toward Dreamworks Animation.

You know the people that I’m talking about. The ones who – when you say that you actually liked the original “Shrek,” “Over the Hedge” or “Kung Fu Panda” – immediately look down their noses at you as if you’re some brainless boob. Because – as the world well knows – only Pixar is allowed to make truly great animated films these days.

Dreamworks "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

Whereas DreamWorks Animation … Well, they’re the studio that allegedly only makes loud, coarse movies like “Shrek the Third.” Which – while they may sell a lot of tickets – are loaded with pop culture references & crude jokes that immediately date these DWA releases.

It's attitudes like that make DreamWorks Animation the Rodney Dangerfield of the animation world. That place that makes pictures which are wildly popular with the public but doesn't get all that much respect from its peers. In short, DWA is that studio that makes fun but immediately forgettable films. Whereas Pixar Animation Studios … They produce art. Movies that are meant to last.

Dreamworks animated film "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

Well, not to knock Pixar (Which is sure to extend its current 10 picture winning streak to 11 once “Toy Story 3” hits theaters on June 18th), but “How to Train Your Dragon” is no throwaway. Just like Toothless the dragon (i.e. the fearsome Night Fury that drives much of the story of this Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois movie), this DreamWorks Animation production surprises, charms and soars.

“Dragon” ‘s story is set on the Island of Berk. Where this remote Viking village has been doing battle with a marauding band of dragons since … Well, since forever.

Dreamworks new animated movie "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

The film’s hero is Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the nerdy teenage son of the Viking chieftain, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerald Butler). Hiccup wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and eventually become the greatest dragon slayer in his village. The only problem is Hiccup's lack of physical stature makes him a very unlikely warrior.

But what this teen lacks in physical strength, he more than makes up for when it comes to mental agility. Which is why – as he works in the blacksmith shop under Gobber the Belch (voiced by Craig Ferguson) -- Hiccup is able to invent all these amazing mechanical gizmos. Including a device that could possibly rid their village of the most feared & fearsome form of dragon, the dreaded Night Fury.

Dragons and Vikings learn to be friends in Dreamworks Animation "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

When Hiccup actually fires this device one night and then brings down a Night Fury, this teenage boy thinks that – when he comes home with proof that he has actually slain a dragon – his reputation will be made. And maybe – just maybe – the girl of his dreams, the lovely Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) will finally look his way.

But what Hiccup finds in the forest isn’t some horrible beast. But – rather – a hurt and frightened animal. And as this teen and Toothless (i.e. the moniker that Hiccup eventually hangs on this particular dragon) slowly get to know & trust one another … Well, this incredibly sweet and funny sequence plays out virtually dialogue-free.

Dreamworks Amimation presents "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

Okay, I know. Pixar fans will accuse "Dragon" 's production team of lifting that story conceit from "Wall-E" and "Up." More to the point, fans of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 2002 release, “Lilo & Stitch” will undoubtedly see a lot of that little blue alien’s look & attitude in this big black dragon.

But given that "How to Train Your Dragon" is written & directed by the same guys who did "Lilo & Stitch" ... Well, doesn't it make sense that these two films would share the same twisted story sensibility? Introducing you to wholly original characters that you will quickly take into your heart. Especially during “How to Train Your Dragon” ‘s lyrical flying sequences.

"How to Train Your Dragon" pits Vikings against fiery dragons
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

Look, I could go on & on about “Dragon” ‘s clever plot or this movie's impressive art direction. But to do so would spoil many of this film’s surprises. But just as the Vikings in this Bonnie Arnold production eventually come to realize that they may have been mistaken when it comes to how all dragons behave … Well, I’m kind of hoping that “How to Train Your Dragon” is the movie that will force some animation fans to reconsider their take on DreamWorks Animation. Makes them realize that not every single picture that DWA produces is mean spirited and /or loaded with glib dialogue. That every once in a while, this Glendale-based animation studio is capable of churning out a film that will genuinely dazzles you with its humor, heart and intelligence. Not to mention aerial sequences that – in 3D – are sure to wow you.

Long story short: If you haven’t seen a DreamWorks Animation release in quite some time, then you really owe it to yourself to go see “How to Train Your Dragon.” For this Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois film is far from forgettable. If anything, “Dragon” may be the most memorable & entertaining thing that DWA has ever produced.

Dreamworks presents "How to Train Your Dragon"
Copyright 2010 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved

So quit draggin’ your feet and go see it already, okay?

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  • I am DEFINTELY in the Dreamworks hater camp. I make SURE that I keep my small children (2,4 & 7) as far away from MOST Dreamworks animated films as possible.

    BUT I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised with Kung Fu Panda and this movie does look quite promising.

    As long as they can keep away from the dirty jokes, sexual innuendo and potty humor, I think this can be good.

  • Since the is a Sanders/DeBlois film, I'm interested in seeing it. But that being said, this review sure reads alot like your review of Monsters vs Aliens!

  • I'm going to correct myself, since after looking back, Jim didn't like MvA. I was thinking more of his review of Kung Fu Panda, where he praises a lot of aspects of the DW production. I didn't mean he was recycling a review, just that Jim is generally more positive on Dreamworks movies than a lot of Disney fan sites. But that being said, this does look like a good movie.

  • I take Dreamworks pics as they come. Shrek? No thanks. Kung Fu Panda? Two thumbs up. M vs A? Rented it and was quite disappointed, particularly after KFP.

    HTTYD was a pleasant surprise, but is still flawed. The main character, Hiccup has little on screen presence. Lilo, for example, was a great character who activated the action and moved the story. Hiccup is difficult to relate to as the protagonist because he reminds me of 30 year old kids who lived at home too long.

    I suspect the writer was influenced by some anime character archtypes. These are main characters who come from a culture where it's impolite to really speak your mind, and subsequently this becomes part of the story - e.g. Maison Ikkoku, Oh My Godess etc . Here the same non communication is in action and in the context of a bunch of rip roaring Vikings doesn't really work.

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