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Review

DreamWorks’ latest proves classic for children, adults

Michael Brun

April 1, 2010

From directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (“Lilo and Stitch”), “How to Train Your Dragon” is an animation triumph. Heartfelt, thrilling and visually stunning, it’s near-perfect family entertainment. If you’re in the mood for some good, clean fun this weekend, then this is the film for you.

The plot revolves around a group of Vikings living in a bleak mountain stronghold. King Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) is as Viking as they come – he’s strong, fearless and ruthlessly adept at slaying dragons. The only challenge he can’t overcome is deciding what to do with his weakling son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). Scrawny and awkward, Hiccup is a social outcast. He dreams of one day killing a dragon and proving his worth, but for now he’s stuck on the sidelines.

Hiccup is the ultimate sad sack. He means well and tries hard, but nothing seems to go his way. He finally catches a break when he manages to shoot down a powerful dragon with one of his homemade contraptions. However, when it comes time to deliver the coup de grace, he can’t bring himself to do it. He chooses to befriend the beast, thus starting a journey of discovery that will shake the very foundations of Viking society.

At its core, “Dragon” is a film about misunderstandings. Stoick and the Vikings are all set in their ways. They kill dragons because they think that dragons are evil – always have been, always will be. They then pass this ideal on to their children. “Our parents’ war is about to become ours,” says America Ferrera as slayer-in-training Astrid. But Hiccup soon finds that there’s more to the dragons than he has been told.

This idea of questioning the status quo is timeless, but it takes on an immediate significance given the cultural conflicts in our world today. It makes you stop and think about who we are and who we want to be.

This is just one of the many positive messages stuffed into this spirited tale. Those looking for an hour and a half of irreverent slapstick will probably feel disappointed. Its moral lessons are occasionally heavy-handed, but they touch on universal truths that will resonate with children and adults alike. But “Dragon” isn’t just about delivering a message. It’s also a thrilling action/adventure story that overflows with creativity. It features close to a dozen unique dragon designs, each one more imaginative than the last.

The visual style of “Dragon” is also quite striking. It takes a different path than most other animated films, trading high gloss and vivid color for natural textures and earth tones. But it’s no less dazzling. The animation is delicious eye-candy from start to finish. When viewed in 3D, it’s the most visually stunning film since “Avatar.”

Also, like “Avatar,” the 3D effects are tasteful and subdued. They rarely feel like a gimmick, and serve only to make the film a more immersive experience. In the debate over the merits of this new wave of 3D filmmaking, “Dragon” is an example of the wondrous possibilities that the technology offers.

Relevant to viewers of all ages, DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” is destined to become a family classic. It’s fun, intelligent and simply gorgeous on the big screen. In a word, this film is a blast!

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.