May 3, 2010

The Dragon Whisperer


It has happened. A movie from Dreamworks Animation has finally captured my heart! To me, the studio's animated films have been a distant second to Pixar's ability to bring us grand movie-going experiences like Up, Wall-E, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and other masterpieces. Of course, How to Train Your Dragon is from Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, who brought us the wonderful Lilo and Stitch from Disney. In fact, Toothless the dragon reminds me of Stitch. And not just physically. Even though he has no lines, he manages to convey a whole range of emotions as he bonds with gawky Viking teen Hiccup (Jay Baruchel).

CGI just keeps getting better. The work here is truly astounding, with many life-like scenes. (I only watched it in 2D so I can't even imagine it in 3D, especially the flying sequences.) But it is the story of Hiccup befriending one of the creatures that menace their seaside abode---the elusive Night Fury dragon---that is the film's shining achievement. The filmmakers make a subtle statement about how understanding, tolerance, a willingness to learn from a sworn enemy--- is the way to peace. And that war has ugly consequences. Case in point: Craig Ferguson's Gobber, the instructor at beast-killing school, has lost an arm and a leg.

And like any kids' movie, our lanky but brainy hero longs to make his father Stoick (the very manly Gerard Butler) proud by becoming one of them: a dragon slayer. AND like a typical teenager, he just wants to fit in with his fellow students (which includes SNL's Kristen Wiig). AND maybe get the girl, the fiercely competitive Astrid (America Ferrara). But all this is done so deftly that adults won't mind.

Messieurs Deblois and Sanders (with writer William Davies), y'all can tell a great story. Take a bow. Audiences, enjoy the ride.

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