Ever since Toy Story made its very successful and game-changing debut, a plethora of CGI-animated films have infiltrated theater screens and our minds. Outside of Pixar’s sure-fire magic, many CGI-animated films have struck out more than they’ve hit home runs. However, every once in awhile, one is released that shows the potential that a non-Pixar studio possesses.
DreamWorks Animation, the studio behind the popular Shrek series, is one such studio. Despite releasing financially-successful films, a majority of DreamWorks Animation’s releases tend to be of mediocre quality (Megamind comes to my mega mind). However, How to Train Your Dragon bucks the trend, presenting the perfect balance of a critical and commercial success.
How to Train Your Dragon takes place on a Viking island, Berk, that is plagued by dragon attacks. While most of Berk’s citizens are of stereotypical Viking stock, the main character is the unfortunately-named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), an undersized and unpopular accidental troublemaker. Lending credibility to his namesake, Hiccup is a lot smaller than his peers, giving him a slight disadvantage at dragon maiming. However, a chance encounter and subsequent friendship with the enigmatic Night Fury dragon poses a change in Viking-dragon relations.
How to Train Your Dragon’s plot isn’t anything new. It follows the tried-and-true formula where the underdog overcomes social ostracization and physical deficiencies to rise up and become the hero, enacting social change with his victory. *yawn* However, what makes the film special is how entertaining the mythos are. Instead of simply introducing generic dragons, How to Train Your Dragon has five different species with their own characteristics and qualities. Berk also has a school of sorts that’s used to teach the Viking youngens how to properly kill dragons, showcasing each dragon’s various strengths and weaknesses, adding more depth to them that goes deeper than a simple change in design.
The film also gets props for its exceptional cast. Baruchel is the perfect Hiccup, imbuing the character with his own brand of awkward but charming bravado. Furthermore, the rest of the cast fit their respective characters very well with their matching personalities (Jonah Hill’s faux-egotism suit’s Hiccup’s psuedo-rival, Snotlout; Christopher Mintz-Plasse is just as nerdy as his character, Fishlegs; Gerard Butler’s machismo matches his role as the Viking Chief and Hiccup’s Dad, Stoick). America Ferrera also stars as Hiccup’s love-interest, Astrid, but I didn’t care too much for her or her character. Sure, she represents the strong, independent female role, but she just felt very bland to me.
If I had one major complaint about the film, it’d be that it wasn’t very funny. I don’t know, maybe I’m expecting the wrong things out of animated films, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen a truly hilarious animated film in years. Maybe things have changed since I was a kid and “cartoon” films aren’t intended to be funny anymore? Whatever the case is, How to Train Your Dragon was short on the ha ha, and that made me a bit boo hoo.
7.15 – Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)
Despite its run of the mill plot, How to Train Your Dragon lays the groundwork for potential greatness, so long as the franchise is handled properly. It could be DreamWorks Animation’s best franchise, and rightfully so.