Dreamworks has bucked this trend with the Shrek Franchise and with this offering, those top branches are going to need to carry a bit more weight.
The splendidly named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the accident prone, spindly son of the great Viking leader Stoick (Butler), living in the inhospitable town of Berk. It rains or snows constantly and all the buildings are new, despite the town existing for many generations. Why new, well because the town has pests that destroy them, in the shape of dragons, lots and lots of dragons.
There is a whole catalogue of Dragons detailing their various attributes, from fire breathing to dragons that will turn your insides out. The townsfolk fear the dragons and kill them at every opportunity, largely to stop them stealing sheep or anything else not bolted down. Why do they kill the dragons, because they always have and always will, that’s just the way of it.
Hiccup is a bit of a disappointment, he sharpens swords and bashes stuff in the forge but really wants to kill a dragon to set his world to rights and please his father. This clearly is not going to happen, as he can barely lift a sword let alone slay a dragon.
Circumstances conspire to provide him with an opportunity and this is where the movie deviates from standard fare and enters into Pixar territory.
In a well constructed scene we see our feeble hero attempt to dispatch his dragon kill but as he later admits, “I couldn’t kill him as he was just as scared as I was”.
Even at this point it could all descend into standard toon mawkishness, but it does not and praise must go to the co-directors who surely must have resisted studio pressures to take the easy route. The interaction with the characters especially Astrid (Fererra), the object of his young affectations, rings true and is consistently amusing in a clever way. There is no attempt to play down to an audience, although all ages will enjoy the tale. Astrid is another feisty female role with her boneheaded comic relief friends but on this occasion it works, Hiccup is particularly amusing and self deprecating at every turn.
The animation, sound effects and voice casting are all superb. You truly care about the characters almost immediately and the relationship built up with “Toothless” the pet dragon may have you checking the tissue box in case anything bad happens.
The voice cast is relatively free of celebrity voices, Gerard Butler being the only notable exception. We get a strange hybrid Scottish, Norse, American type vibe which fits very well in this mythical land.
Young kids should have nothing to fear and adults will have plenty to cheer and relate to.
Making your father proud and being accepted by him for what and who you are, these are deep themes for a children’s movie. Yet it seems that this is one of the few formats where these issues can be successfully explored. There is more feeling and characterization’s in this movie, than ten live action “Prince of Persia’s”. The scene where Hiccup’s father is “having a talk” is touchingly and beautifully played out.
Certainly if the scene where Hiccup gently reaches his hand out to cautiously touch his new found dragon friend, does not give you even a slight chill, you may want to check your pulse.
There is sneaky message tucked away about learning to understand what you have always been taught to hate and that ignorance can flourish anywhere if not challenged. None of this gets in the way of the story but it is a neat trick that the screenwriters have so successfully integrated these themes into the story, from the original novel by Cressida Cowell.
The film manages to feel hip and trendy without being plagued by phrases that will date within six months and would definitely stand up to repeat viewings, very handy if you have young children from both points of view.
As good as Toy Story 3, well there might only be a dragons whisker in it. When we get movies this good, marketed supposedly as children’s entertainment, who cares which studio produces them, bring them on.
Excellent, go watch it.