Sunday, May 2, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon - ****

How to Train Your Dragon made me feel something movies so rarely do: elation. It's beautiful, funny, exciting, and has a Hell of a lot of heart. I went into it thinking that it was directed by the guys responsible for the Madagascar (ugh) films, so I already had a bias against it, but it won me over in about twenty minutes, after which I gave in and started loving it. It is actually directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the team behind Lilo and Stitch, and Sanders was also a writer on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, and his talent shows through wonderfully in this film. Though there isn't much of a story, the characters are pretty fantastic, and there is enough wit and intelligence to overcome what could be considered a formulaic narrative arc.

I saw this film in 3-D, a format which I am not very enthusiastic about. I'm one of those guys who, in advance, is already hating on all of the movies lining up to cash in on it (Fuck you Spider-Man 4), but Dragon kind of nails it. Maybe it's the fantastic flying sequences, which cover maybe twenty minutes, and are truly amazing, maybe it's the crisp animation, or maybe it's the fact that the great cinematographer Roger Deakins was a visual consultant that makes it work... I don't know what it is, but the 3-D is spectacular.

I should also mention that the voice-cast is superb, featuring a few guys from the Apatow family, like Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who are always pretty reliable in any shape or form. And then there is also Gerard Butler, who contributed to that negative bias when I walked into this, coming only a week after seeing The Bounty Hunter, but he pulls is it off brilliantly. He helps turn what could have been, and usually is, a boring character, the stubborn father who refuses to accept his son for who he is until the big finale where the son is the hero, into someone who seems real, given that you accept the reality of the film. His gruff, warrior voice in the beginning gradually fades to understanding tenderness by the end.

Though Dreamworks Animation normally produces bottom-of-the-barrel dreck and misery, like Shrek, Shark Tale, and Skrek the Turd, How to Train Your Dragon is nothing short of animation magic and, like some of the best Pixar films, it's enjoyable for viewers of all ages. After Kung Fu Panda and this, maybe I'll even give Shrek Forever Afturd a pass. Okay, probably not, but I couldn't give this film a higher recommendation. See it. Love it. See it again.

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