The first time I realized I was watching a great movie in “How To Train Your Dragon” is when Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) finally finds his captive dragon, Toothless, for the first time. Toothless is a Night Fury with sleek black surface like a car, puppy cute with large eyes, but skinny little Hiccup is afraid nonetheless. The film shows the dragon up close, its scales individually glinting from some imagined light source. The animators at Dreamworks really got texture and put that into the movie, specifically in the way it worked on the design of the anthropomorphic dragon as well as the fur and the hair that the Viking characters were wearing. To remind you guys, this is in 2D and is just as effective. If only they got fire and clouds and human skin just as perfectly, but you know, uncanny valley.
This ‘close-up’ of the dragon makes it seem like the movie uses not animation but a camera. The first scene breezily floats towards Berk, finds Hiccup, follows him until he runs into the muscular Stoick (Gerard Butler), whom we’ll find out as Hiccup’s father. Then we’re back at learning Hiccup trying to get away from his boss, Gobber (Craig Ferguson). He does and unintentionally makes more trouble for the small town. The films needles in and out of the town in sweeping strokes, in sync with the action happening onscreen. I tried to keep telling myself that it’s only animation, but it makes the audience feel like an expensive epic battle scene with ambitious long takes. The scene is a study of colour too, the peaceful blues of the evening sky and the ocean being fought off by the orange-coloured fire and the brown fur vests and hair.
It also has one of the most rousing musical scores I’ve heard in a while. The funny thing is that the music is a bit militaristic (thankfully with full violins, flutes and some choral work and minimal drums and percussion. I’m thinking I heard bagpipes too, but it might just be because of the distracting Scottish accents). John Powell (Shrek, The Bourne Series) uses the militaristic music in depicting a child, playing with pet dragon, feeling free, discovering something new and human within Toothless. The feelings that the score evokes, the turning point when both Hiccup and Toothless turn doubt into trust. It’s infectious.
Gerry Butler’s also good in this movie too. It’s like Clooney in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Butler immerses himself into the character and his looks don’t get into the way. I can’t wait for time to pass by and for him to get away from hot shitty romantic comedies and get more into parental roles. Baruchel’s voice needs to be less monotone monotone voice, but that’s a little gripe compared to the wonders of the rest of the movie.
And if Stoick asked for the well-being of his son instead of being mad at him for causing trouble and unintentionally releasing all the captive dragons. But not all movie parents are perfect, and letting the dragons go with the village’s food is a pretty bad thing to do. But at least it’s more succinct and more effective than “Avatar.”
p.s. I saw Martina. This is her review that actually explains the plot better than mine.