Thursday, April 8, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

"Dragon Everyone to Your Level"

Okay, it's "Old Yeller" done in fire-breathing naugahyde. It's a kid's animation movie, so it's going to be fast-paced, lively and have a "Can't We All Just Get Along" ending (in a creepy Rumsfeldian "the enemy of my friend/enemy is also my enemy" way). The casting is terrific, especially of Craigy Ferguson as a Viking machinist (Wait a tick...Vikings were Scottish?). Gerard Butler has the role of father to the protagonist and plays it as if he was always pointing to Sparta on a map. Jay Baruchel (the star of "She's Out of My League") does voice-cracking wonders with the voice of our hero, Hiccup, who is just not Viking material, but manages to subdue—even win the trust of—a dragon (seems the flying butane-breathed lizards have traits just like house-dogs and cats). Still, keep the extinguisher handy in case of fur-balls.

No points to
"How To Train Your Dragon" for originality (as I haven't read the book, I don't know if that's where the problem flies, but I suspect it's merely that DreamWorks animations—2-D or 3-D, line or pixel—are so formulaic in construction at this point, splicing pop-culture and source, that they have a tendency to blend together at the same point in time as your eyes cross—is this a Katzenberg trait?). There's always an out-of-time attitude displacement to these things where every character has the traits of a stand-up comedian and the homogenized values of a sit-com, that you have to keep reminding yourself—"Viking, Vikings, Vikings."

However, major points for execution. The technology of these things increases with one being released every six months, and "How To Train Your Dragon" has a nifty design scheme that reminds one of impossibly constructed children's play sets—the Viking village is the niftiest little chock-a-block city since "Sweethaven" in Robert Altman's "Popeye." The dragons are cartoon lunacy out of Tex Avery and the full-blown Vikings, like Hiccup's Viking-father, Stoick, are madly out of proportion humans who'd wobble and flail if there weren't some pen-and-ink gravity keeping them up-right and bounding.

Conversely, the other extreme is impressive, as well. The look of clouds and ocean waves has never looked more real—the look of coastal waters has never seemed more real, whatever coding and algorithms used to simulate the wave action are spot-on and
indistinguishable from photo-realism. I saw "How to Train Your Dragon" in 2-D, but the 3-D must be quite impressive, it certainly was in "Monsters vs. Aliens," and there seemed to be no over-loading of nose-brushing effects that has been the bugaboo of the process.

All around it's a satisfying effort that will please the kiddies, and provides enough entertainment value to keep adults from nodding off, or rolling their eyes. The cookie-cutter nature of the plot is the only thing that keeps it from being a Full-Price ticket.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is a Matinee.

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