Step one: Don’t get eaten by a nightfury.
How To Train Your Dragon is a pure joy, a complete and captivating wonder that reaches the inner child in you, touches it, and fills you with such inexplicable excitement and adventure that you almost feel like you can do anything. I was initially worried about this movie going in to it: how many other movies have attempted the human-pet budding romance E.T. did so wonderfully all those magical years ago, and failed? Well, there’s nothing to fear here, fellow reader. In their long line of successes, failures and mismatches, How To Train Your Dragon easily ranks among DreamWorks’ best work.
We open up on a grand battle on the land of Berk, an island where the vikings are as stubborn and hard-headed as the metal helmets they wear on their heads. But this battle isn’t against other vikings, mind you: it’s against dragons, giant, dangerous beasts that tear through the sky and spit fire like its flu season for them. For the vikings, killing a dragon is like the starting point for becoming a man. It’s their form of puberty I suppose, next to the endless gorges of food and testosterone that they throw and shout about at each other.
One Berk citizen, however, is a little more hopeless than other vikings: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a smart, inventive but helplessly clumsy little fellow that will reach for a pencil when he’s supposed to reach for an axe. Fate turned an eye to him when in the midst of the battle, he captured a “nightfury”, a sleek black dragon whose fast speed and blue fire makes him the most deadly dragon out in the field of battle. However, against his better judgement, Hiccup decides not to kill the nightfury after discovering that he was injured during the battle. Now, while slowly helping him back to health and back to being able to fly, Hiccup discovers the truth about the dragon race, and how similar he is to them and their personalities.
Taking a look at the past animated movies DreamWorks has helped produce, you realize how much of a mixed bag they put out there to their audience. Look at the best they’ve had to offer, such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. Now look at the worst they’ve had to offer, such as Shark Tale and Shrek The Third. And don’t even get me started on Bee Movie. Looking at their filmoraphy, and looking at how much they’ve done wrong mixed with their right, I was expecting a very artificial, forgettable experience.
Boy, was I wrong, and boy was I glad to be wrong. The very first detail you notice in How To Train Your Dragon is it’s animation, how crisp and refined it is in detail, and how authentic it makes everything look. In the opening sequence, for instance, we shift through the dark clouds and sea as we approach the land of Berk, and it was so atmospheric that I felt like I myself was flying over the ocean surface when I first saw it. Later in the film, you look at vikings talking to each other in the dining hall, and the rock floors and the wood detailing look so real that you can almost reach out and touch it.
But I know what you’re really after. You’re not after what the waves, clouds and wood looks like. Nuh uh. You’re interested in how the dragons look, how exhilarating the fight scenes are and how exciting it is when you see a dragon spread his wings for the first time.
Let me assure you, fellow reader: the action could not be any more exciting. The dragons are all colorful, lifelike and filled with variety, their wings spread out in glorious, anthropomorphic detail. When they fly, they soar at supersonic speeds, dodging mountains, flipping through the air, and skydiving towards valleys like they are swimming in an endless sea of clouds and sky.
I especially liked the chemistry Hiccup shares with the nighfury, who he later names Toothless in the movie. Did I really just say that? That I liked the chemistry between two fictional, fake, animated characters? Yes I did, because these characters are neither fake nor artificial: they’re genuine, sharing real, heartfelt emotions with each other in ways almost no other animated film captures in movies. When Hiccup touches Toothless’ snout for the first time, you feel conflicted emotions between each other as they struggle to trust one another. When Toothless saves Hiccup from certain death from the dangers of the skies, you feel their relationship growing as they form a closer bond with each other. But when an all-out war spawns in between the vikings and the dragons, it’s Hiccup and Toothless that remain strong through it all, their friendship so compelling that it almost feels like connecting with a long-lost brother, not too disimilar to how Boo and Sully interact in Monsters Inc.
My only regret with this movie is that it won’t be the best animated film of the year. With Toy Story 3 releasing just around the corner, and considering Pixar’s track record, it’s doubtful to see How To Train Your Dragon trump years of animated fandom and cherishment, especially when we’ve had years to grow with these characters. Shame, because this movie has great, fluid animation, an involving story, and memorable characters just like Toy Story does. If Toy Story 3 wasn’t coming out in June, I am positive that How To Train Your Dragon would win the best animated feature award at the Oscars.