Wednesday, 21 April 2010

How To Train Your Dragon

While Dreamworks’ Shrek franchise continues to earn more money with each inferior addition to its series, the studio’s animation filmmakers are showing signs in other areas that they may yet be able to rival Pixar in the quality stakes. Last year their Monsters vs. Aliens was laugh-out-loud hilarious and made great use of imaginative characters, and How To Train Your Dragon is even better. It’s a really well told story full of heart, action and comedy and it’s refreshingly free of the pop-culture in-jokes that have so often been Dreamworks’ lazy standby.

Based on a novel by Cressida Cowell, the film centres on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a clumsy teenage Viking whose tribe lives a perilous existence in the village of Berk, perched on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the sea and continually under attack from vicious dragons. Hiccup excels at inventing but is useless with an axe, and his father Stoic (Gerard Butler), head of the tribe and also Berk’s premier dragon-slayer, is resigned to the fact that his son will never follow him into battle. When Hiccup amazingly succeeds in shooting down a dragon with one of his inventions he determines to secretly kill it and prove his worth as a warrior. But when he finds the trapped dragon he discovers not only that he can’t bring himself to kill it, but that the dragons may actually be much more friendly than the tribe believes.

The story follows the well-worn ‘young innocent secretly befriends the enemy’ formula with all the plot-turns you would expect, but filmmakers Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders tell it without irony, prioritising strong characterisation, and the film is genuinely engaging and moving as a result. Added to this they create some thrilling flying sequences and an intense action finale, representing arguably the best use of new-style 3D in animation yet.
The film also features great voice acting, with Gerard Butler in particular giving his most recognisably human performance in years as Stoic. He was clearly born to play warriors, and not much else!

How To Train Your Dragon is out now.

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