Thursday, 22 April 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

In truth, everyone has probably harboured a fascination with dragons from a young age. Away from the televisual domain of fire-breathing Anne Robinson, the savage grace and primordial beauty of these mythical creatures has nevertheless had a spotty translation to the screen, with both Reign of Fire and Dragonheart being recent, sputtering failures.

How to Train Your Dragon is a very different beast, in every sense of the word: shrewd, smart, exciting, muscular and witty, it's inarguably one of the best CGI kids flicks ever made, fusing potent mythology with a modern kind of American pop cynicism that works blindingly well. It revels in a fantasy world that is both distant and yet populated with sharply drawn, identifiable characters, winningly voiced. Although not as funny as Shrek, the period setting precludes any of the product placements that have bogged that franchise down in favour of a more strongly bolstered narrative.

Central to the piece is Jay Baruchel's Hiccup, winsome, skinny loser son to chest-beating Stoic (Gerard Butler, for once finding a perfect outlet for his machismo). Native of the Viking settlement of Berk which has long been terrorised by the fiery types, most of the locals are up in arms, but Hiccup, in typical loner fashion, forms a strong friendship with a dragon he blew out of the sky, whom he names Toothless. But how long is it before the village interprets his increased understanding of the creatures for heroism in the training ring, where he is pitted, rites of passage style, against the beasties with a further assortment of misfit heroes? And how long before Toothless himself is discovered?

The stage is set for a beautifully moral story where the moral, as with all the great animated features, is deftly hidden behind an energetic, colourful exterior, one that delightfully upends both scale in the oversized, overbearing vikings, and the quirky dragons themselves, some of whom boast two heads, others of which are fat and deceptively cute. Full of a surprisingly aggressive sound design (that will likely both thrill and terrify younger viewers), the effect, bizarrely, results in a far more engagingly entertaining experience than the live action Clash of the Titans, especially in a climactic battle sequence that is the equal of anything produced in the live action arena recently. The thoroughly modern voice-cast also works surprisingly well, from America Ferrara's tough heroine Astrid to Jonah Hill's oafish Snotlout, grounding the fantasy in hip 90210 territory while never becoming too cynical for its own good.

In truth, the entire soul of Titans could be captured on the back of a stamp; Dragon not only soars in its astonishing flying sequences (bolstered by John Powell's wonderful Celtic-influenced, score) but it takes one's spirit out into the ether long after the credits have rolled. It's a cautionary tale of prejudice, a tale of father-son relationships, of the wonderful hinterland between fantasy and reality, one that completely transcends even the clunky earthbound gimmick of 3D (should you see it in such a fashion) to evoke grins of joy and tears behind the glasses.

1 comment:

  1. We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull, Some have weird names , and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box . ....................................................