FILM: Review: How to Train Your Dragon

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Remember when I said I’d probably see this over the weekend? Guess what.

And it was wonderful. Every bit as wonderful as everyone seemed to be promising. Everyone, FYI, connotes Rotten Tomatoes and many of my close film-student friends. I went into the film with a lot of confidence and was solidly rewarded for my financial offering. (By the way, I didn’t see it in 3D, because I hate 3D — but I’ve heard that this one does it well.)

I don’t know if you’ve heard my Pixar diatribe, but I’ll spare you. Summed up, Pixar is the best. No one else usually comes close. But this time Dreamworks came really, really close. This is shocking. They made a film that cared about story at least as much as it cared about the “wow, cool!” special effects and the-kids’ll-love-this components. And it didn’t treat its audience as though none of them possessed an IQ greater than that of a doughnut.

The result was an honestly exciting movie with deeply sympathetic characters and dialogue that managed to be very, very funny. I haven’t been this impressed with a non-Pixar animated film since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was mercilessly hysterical. But the difference between the two films is that Cloudy was working toward goofball absurdism (and succeeded fantastically), while Dragon wanted to be epic and meaningful. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard because you run the risk of turning out a story with too many protagonists, or obstacles that aren’t dire or threatening enough.

Villains are common because they’re easy. They are most often false caricatures of human weakness. The destruction of a despicable villain is the quickest and least responsible road to the audience’s satisfaction. Think of Disney’s Gaston (from Beauty and the Beast) — a character who is present for the sole purpose of providing the audience with satisfaction at his destruction.

But this one takes the higher road, and pulls it off. The writers didn’t go for cheap tricks, suffocating cliches, or safely simplistic moral ideals. There was a monster, but no villain. And the monster isn’t necessarily what you expect. I won’t say more about that because I have a morbid fear of spoilers, but I will say that the community in the film is eventually faced with a problem. The older generation — represented by an enormous, wonderful Viking with a thick Scottish accent (thank you, Gerard Butler) — believes with fair justification that the problem ought to be solved one way, while our protagonist, the champion of a new school of thought, feels quite differently.

But not once did I get the feeling that the filmmakers were ridiculing the older generation for what they did. The misguided nature of their actions was unfortunate, almost tragic, rather than condemnable. So, sure, the kids saved the day. You have to expect that. But they didn’t do so at the older generation’s expense. In fact, they had to work together. It is a film full of well-intentioned people. No one is demonized, and everyone ends up better for their experiences.

And did I mention that the film was exciting and hilarious? And cool? And way fun? Seriously. Go see this movie. It’ll be in theaters at least for this week and next, so finish up whatever you’ve been doing that’s been keeping you away from the theaters, and Go. See. This. Movie.


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