October 18, 2010
How to Train Your Dragon (2010) **1/2
Directed by Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)- What a disappointment! Voice acting is stiff & the character animation is less than mediocre. **1/2 of 5
Granted, I saw How to Train Your Dragon in 2D since I can't see 3D films because of my eye. Maybe that third dimension might have helped my overall opinion of the film, but no matter how lush the visuals I may have missed, there still remains a completely rote script which outright steals plot ideas from better films like The Black Stallion, Kung Fu Panda and Beauty and the Beast. I have no problem with formulaic kids' films, but I do have a problem when every single minute of the second half of the film plays out exactly as I would expect without fail. Perhaps I'm reacting a bit to its almost universal acclaim, proven by its 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating, but I'll take a wisecracking comedy/action animated feature like Monsters vs. Aliens over this joyless exercise in connecting all-too-familiar dots.
Jay Baruchel gives a barely conscious vocal performance as Hiccup (ummm...okay), the son of an alpha-Viking dragon slayer named Stoick, voiced by the under-talented Gerard Butler, who is trying to earn his father's pride and nab himself a girlfriend. The film opens on a chaotic nighttime dragon raid on a Viking village where each is proud of his or her ability to kill dragons. When Hiccup leaves his house to help, everyone in the town yells at him to go back inside. He's an inventor at heart and produces a catapult contraption which he sneaks away to use to attempt to nab himself one of the most mysterious and dangerous of all dragons--a night fury.
Meanwhile, Hiccup makes a huge mess of things back in the village which leads his embarrassed father to sign him up to take dragon killing classes led by the one-legged, one-armed Gobber, voiced with much needed excitement by Craig Ferguson. Here, he antagonizes a bunch of geeks including a young woman named Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera. She's cute; he wants a girlfriend; what do you think happens between them at the end? After classes are over, he goes out to find that he did in fact capture a night fury, and after some initial mistrust between the two, Hiccup finds out that the night fury who he ironically names Toothless (har har har) is pretty much nothing more than a flying, fire-breathing cat.
The Viking method of dealing with dragons is to kill them on sight, which is understandable considering that the dragons are stealing the Vikings' food for a purpose we learn later in the film. Hiccup realizes that the dragons can be tamed quite easily when he learns that they hate eels and enjoy being scratched behind the ears. Eventually, Hiccup must choose between making his father and his village proud by killing his first dragon in public or staying true to his firm commitment to cuddle with his new-found dragon friends.
Baruchel is so truly awful and completely miscast in the lead role. He never even attempts to attain the life and death stakes of his character in the way he lazily delivers every line. Further, he tries to inject sarcastic humor into parts of his delivery that makes absolutely no sense and ends up as nothing more than a vanity exercise. Ridiculously underwritten supporting characters voiced by talents such as Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse randomly throw in nursery school jokes about pooping one's pants and making annoying noises that couldn't be more inappropriate to what's going on in the plot.
There are two admittedly beautiful flying sequences that look expensive and deliver the awe that's intended. Further, the background animators ought to be proud of the lavish work they produced. The CGI of the humans, however, looks like the product of a final exam in an Introduction to Computer Animation course at a community college in a non-urban section of Alaska. I remember watching a documentary on the making of Finding Nemo and being impressed by the fact that the animators so meticulously and tirelessly worked for years to make sure that every single visual detail was as fully-realized as could possibly be. This movie looks like it was made in a matter of months, which is the problem with Dreamworks animated films in general. Pixar is willing to put the time into one really great film a year. Dreamworks churns them out one after the other to make money.
How to Train Your Dragon is not a terrible movie, though it does have some pretty awful elements. It's simply lazy and disturbingly comfortable in its mediocrity. Some have said that this movie rivals Avatar, and again admitting that I can't comment on either film's 3D elements, Avatar is such a visual feast in every way. How to Train Your Dragon, in comparison, comes across as a half-priced visual appetizer microwaved the next day as a dried out late-afternoon snack.