I just have to say to all of the blockbuster-making, multi-million dollar spending, high-brow movie directors out there (James Cameron, George Lucas, etc): “Pay attention to these animated kids movies!”
Man, these days I am more and more impressed with the story-telling, immersive plots, and well-developed characters in the recent films of Pixar and now Dreamworks than all of the last 10 block-busting-box-office smashers all combined. In a time where film-makers seem to be more interested in the amount of garbage they can cram onto a single frame of film and selling their own political ideologies with cheap manipulative plot-devices, poorly constructed plots, and one-dimensional characters, it is good to see that someone still cares about creating a great story with compelling characters. Enter the latest animated film, “How to Train Your Dragon”.
This delightful tale is about a young man named Hiccup struggling with an identity crisis because he is a small and passive young man living in a society comprised of rough and tumble, manly vikings who have to constantly defend their village from fierce dragons. He wants so badly to fit in but is physically inept. After bumbling up several attempts to prove himself a dragon-slayer, he finds himself face to face with the most elusive and dangerous dragon known to viking. The dragon is lame however, and his compassion keeps him from killing the beast. Instead he befriends it and learns that there is another side to these creatures. As he secretly works to build a prosthetic device to give his new friend flight again, the dragon-knowledge he gains along the way helps him become socially accepted among the town at least until his compassion for the animals becomes public knowledge. A subplot of the story about the boy striving for his father’s acceptance just adds even more depth to these characters. In the end there is the lesson of the heart. The strength of the heart is ultimately more important than physical strength. What the vikings could not do with hundreds of years of brute force, our young protagonist accomplishes in a short period of time through his good will. Hiccup learns that courage is about purpose of the heart and not in his physical make-up and of course, his father comes to understand that too.
I went into this film expecting a goofy kid’s movie and what I saw underneath all of the cute animation was story-telling and depth missing from so many of today’s films. I’ll take films like this over “Avatar” any day. True it is not as pretty or action-packed, but it has heart. I don’t feel like I’m being manipulated by the director to despise one-dimensional unrealistic caricatures who represent the director’s view of our nations military and corporate entities. Somehow these makers of kid’s movies are really understanding film-making and story-telling in a way that escapes most of Hollywood. Another good example is the brilliantly made, “Up” by Pixar. I’ve seen that movie a few times now, and each time I catch more of the intricate message conveyed metaphorically through the composition of the frame. There is such symbolism and depth in that film! All of it, to teach us a lessons on pain, grief, and friendship. WHAT? From a kid’s movie? You bet.
Aren’t movies supposed to be about character and story? At least a few people still get it, but if we don’t support it, it will die out and all we’ll have left is lame sequels of shallow films, overblown movies based on one-dimensional eighties TV shows, and remakes of second rate movies with all-new special effects added. So regardless of how old you are, if you want a good movie, go see “How to Train Your Dragon” while it’s still playing.
On a side note: I saw this film in IMAX 3D. To me, 3D is still somewhat gimmicky and this film did not need any gimmicks. However, the 3D was well done and added a little more realism to the experience. I am a little split on the whole 3D thing. I like the concept and how it goes back to the days of 50s cinema. I’m just afraid that like CGI, film-makers will start to rely on it to sell their films instead of just making really good stories. The jury is still out.
Objectionable content: Not really much at all. There were a couple of off-color remarks made about Hiccup’s viking helmet being made from his mother’s breast-plate, but nothing too offensive. These are vikings and thus believed in the Norse gods, so there are a couple of places where a reference to Odin was made in exclamation (in place of using our Lord’s name).
Overall Rating: A