Published Mar 25, 2010Guys, I've seen a lot of animated films in my day, and as I advance in years I find myself becoming ever less impressed by cute-looking, animated creatures. In How to Train Your Dragon, we have Toothless, a dragon feared by all the Vikings in ancient Scandinavia (?) except meek little Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel); he is certainly not the most threatening creature you ever did see. Whenever he sits upright he reminds me of Minya, son of Godzilla, though a writer on Roger Ebert's "answer man" column also observed, perhaps not incorrectly, that the shape of his head and mouth resemble a flaccid, circumcised penis.
Well, whatever he is, he sure tries his damndest to be cute. So why didn't I find him so? Well, call me a snob, but I've reached a point in my life when I've seen thousands of cartoon animals smile and broaden their eyes (as Toothless does in an early scene), and unless I have a real emotional investment in the creature, well, it starts to look like cuteness for the sake of. Now, don't get me wrong, as far as kiddie movies go, this is a perfectly okay one. I'm just saying that if you are the type of adult who finds yourself attending virtually every one of these things that comes out (read: parents or film critics) don't expect to have your preconceptions about non-Pixar computer animated films shaken to the core.
Hiccup is the rail-thin, introverted son of Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), one of Scandinavia's mightiest Vikings. Father and son share a mutual indifference to each other until Stoick enrols Hiccup in a dragon killing class; the li'l pacifist becomes best friends with a dragon anyway. There is the requisite hard-working female classmate who is jealous of our hero's way with dragons before becoming a half-hearted love interest; bullying-classmates-become-friends development; and the requisite moment when Stoick disowns his son (at the two-thirds mark) before finally embracing him (during the big action climax).
If you're an adult who has somehow found yourself at a theatre showing How to Train Your Dragon, you really need to cling to the modest virtues. Fortunately, there are enough of these to make this acceptable kiddie fodder, particularly the vocal performances by Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and especially Craig Ferguson, whose cheerful Scottish brogue is perfect for the well-meaning, somewhat moronic Gobber.
The computer animation is state-of-the-art and the character design is often marvellously imaginative (I especially liked Gobber, whose massive jaw and aggressive under-bite force him to adopt a perma-smile). And the film employs 3D far better than Monsters vs. Aliens, DreamWorks' previous, more gimmicky attempt.
The movie uses this technology to create depth of frame rather than throw things at the audience, but while the image quality is sharp, does the format really add anything that standard 2-D projection wouldn't? (Dreamworks)