DreamWorks has never been a studio I’ve been particularly interested in. The only DreamWorks movies I’ve seen I’ve watched passively, almost out of a sense of obligation. I am of course referring to their computer animated movies and not The Prince of Egypt, which is fantastic.
The first DreamWorks movie I ever saw that I thought was really clever was Megamind. That movie provided an interesting twist on the hero vs. villain formula, and made for a very entertaining and enjoyable film. However, I’ve only seen Megamind once. It was good, but since I’ve seen it I haven’t had the urge to watch it again.
But I would watch How To Train Your Dragon over and over again, let me tell you. In fact, I think I’ll watch it after I’m done with this review. That’s how good it is.
This has got to be one of the most charming, good-natured, well done kids’ films I’ve seen in years. And yes, I realize that it came out in 2010 and that’s pretty much old news. Apparently I have been living under a rock.
This movie takes a formula that has been done over and over and over again and uses that formula to create an almost perfect film. It seems as the formula was made for this movie, and not the other way around. It is one of the only instances I’ve ever seen what most consider to be a tired formula that didn’t bother me. I liked every character in this movie. I liked that they added several complex emotional issues. I liked that they created the perfect balance between entertainment and true storytelling. I liked THAT DAMN DRAGON.
I almost hate Toothless because I have a feeling that if I was legitimately trying to be angry or serious about something, all anyone would have to do to turn me into a complete and total flailing mess is show me a picture of this thing. I mean, just look at him.
If you do not think Toothless is cute, you are not my friend. You also probably have fewer emotions than I do and are therefore most likely not human. This dragon could make Scrooge burst into fangirly giggles. He could make Voldemort go “AWWW.” He could make the Grinch give back Christmas before he even steals it.
I promise, though, that the reason this movie is good does not have to do with Toothless (at least, not entirely). Like I said, we have a very familiar story here – a character that feels like an outcast in his community befriends a special creature that is also an outcast in its community and the two form a bond and the character reconciles his/her differences with the community by either saving the day, demonstrating why differences are important, eliminating a prejudice, or in this movie’s case, all three. It’s a story you’ve seen a million times, but for some reason it feels so fresh and new here.
I think much of that has to do with just how likeable all the characters are, as well as how dimensional they are. Hiccup’s dad isn’t just an all-controlling father that is ashamed of his son. He loves his son, and legitimately tries to connect with him. Every time Hiccup does something his father doesn’t want him to do, you can see how much it hurts the father. This isn’t easy for him. He doesn’t want to have this kind of relationship, but he wants more from Hiccup than Hiccup is able to give. And Hiccup, for his part, isn’t just a misunderstood short kid. He has problems, too. He also wants to connect with his dad and other people, but lacks the confidence with which to do so. Hiccup gives up easily, and never really tries very hard. Until he meets Toothless.
When Hiccup meets Toothless, it seems at long last that he has something unique to look forward to – something he can change and influence and use. Helping the dragon, learning how to fly, creating the special bond with Toothless that he hasn’t created with anyone else – all this gives Hiccup a certain confidence that he’s never had before, and at long last he is able to stand up for himself and reveal the truth to his father.
Naturally, his father doesn’t take it very well – after all, Vikings and dragons are sworn enemies – but after a battle with a big dragon and a surprisingly touching scene in which Hiccup’s father thinks Hiccup has perished (even though the audience knows full well he hasn’t), all is well, and Vikings and dragons live in harmony, just as Hiccup is now at peace with his daddy.
What makes this effective is that even though we know all will be right in the end, the characters don’t know that. When Hiccup’s dad thinks his son is dead, he actually thinks his son is dead and you can see the pain and remorse he feels.
I’ve always said the best part to any story are the characters, and if you make the characters interesting, you can turn any story – no matter how overused and cliche it might be – and make it something worthwhile. How To Train Your Dragon might be the best example of this I have ever come across. If I ever doubted DreamWorks’ ability to make an excellent movie before, I certainly won’t now. This film is absolutely a must-see.