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Movie Review- How to Train your Dragon

April 3, 2010

As the village’s unluckiest and most accident-prone citizen, Hiccup has no real friends save for maybe the blacksmith Gobber, who also serves as the dragon training instructor. Hiccup soon finds himself at a crossroads when he begins dragon training with the other youths in his tribe: Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, and twins Ruffnut  and Tuffnut. Even as he secretly befriends and cares for a wounded dragon which he names Toothless. In Viking culture, there’s nothing more treacherous or dangerous than consorting with the enemy — especially when it’s a dragon. But Hiccup discovers that maybe the dragons fear the humans as much as they fear them. Will Hiccup finally become the man his father wants him to be by slaying a dragon, or will he honor his newfound friendship with Toothless?

DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon is a sweet film that, despite a valiant effort, never truly rises to the occasion. Its biggest drawback is its formulaic “zero to hero” storyline, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion from the start. Beyond just clinging to Joseph Campbell’s oft-used “Hero’s Journey” paradigm, HTTYD also retreads some of the same ground covered in Disney’s 1997 animated feature Hercules and its direct-to-video prequel Hercules: Zero to Hero, where the title character is a gawky misfit who, after accidentally wreaking havoc on his own village, must undergo training in order to attain his true potential. (The upcoming Clash of the Titans remake also owes a fair deal to Disney’s Hercules, but I’ll get into that in next week’s review.)

In a technical level, it would be nice to see a CG-animated film that actually looks different. Every CG-animated character nowadays, whether human or animal, has the same body type, facial structures, movements, etc. I know studios probably want consumers to be confused as to whether they’re seeing a Pixar film or a DreamWorks one (or a knock-off of both), but there was a time when you could tell animated movies apart. It gave the films and those making them — whether it was Disney, Ralph Bakshi, Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., Rankin-Bass — a sense of identity and a distinctive brand look. Now everything looks handsomely produced but generic. This film’s no different.

But what helps elevate How to Train Your Dragon above the glut of other recent animated fare is its message about tolerance and realizing that your enemy may not be as different as you think. I’m sure some film student will read too much into the movie and find a post-9/11 or War on Terror metaphor to use as the thesis for a term paper. But the film’s really just trying to send kids a positive message (albeit a heavy-handed, sermonizing one) about the perils of fear, prejudice, and violence. It’s tough to really knock a kid’s film that tries to do something more than the usual spate of fart jokes and musical numbers.

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