April 8, 2010

Review: A Boy and 'How to Train Your Dragon'

Most of the film community sees Pixar as a superior band of filmmakers with auteur animators who make more artistic films, whereas, Dreamworks Animation is seen as the producers of the Shrek movies and their various clones with expensive voice talent. But quietly Dreamworks has started to make the odd cinematic gem. Kung Fu Panda was a surprising artistic twist that bridged the cultural gaps of Eastern philosophy with Western traditions. How to Train Your Dragon, loosely based on the children's book of the same name, continues this trend very well.

How to Train Your Dragon has been been favourably compared to another 3D epic, Avatar, and it shows. The former Disney duo that brought you Lilo & Stitch take an old familiar story and theme and tell it in an interesting way.

Dragon may take place in a small community of vikings and dragons but otherwise, there are no wild flights of fancy. The film is grounded in a set of characters and reality used in a way to exploit the animated environment in fun, interesting ways. There are no obnoxious pop culture references or out of place celebrity voice talent.

Speaking of which, the voice talent is not the usual Dreamworks superstar lineup. Instead, it is a deep gallery of impressive actors with Jay Baruchel as the meek viking, Hiccup. Gerard Butler plays his burly father in his best cast role since 300. America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Craig Ferguson round our the voicing sublimely.

The absolute best thing about the film are the epic flying scenes with Hiccup riding on Toothless the dragon. These scenes standout as a stellar piece of cinema rivaling anything in Avatar and they pop especially in IMAX 3D. Otherwise, the 3D is muted and blends into the depth of the frame in a non-distracting way. The character designs of the dragons gave each beast a personality and depth for the viewer. Supposedly, "a dragon always goes for the kill." Not so with the proper training.

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