Earlier this week, I attended a 2D screening of How to Train Your Dragon and enjoyed it immensely – so much so that I decided I gad to see it in 3D. In 2D, I’d have given the film a solid B+, but after seeing it the way it was filmed, I definitely had to bump that up.
How to Train Your Dragon is the story of how Hiccup [voiced by Jay Baruchel], a Viking boy with no Viking attributes at all, becomes a hero and gets the girl. These are not spoilers. These are the things that happen in most coming-of-age/teen rebellion movies – even the animated ones. The difference is in the details.
Hiccup, you see, is the son of Stoic [Gerard Butler] the Chief of the village of Berk. Stoic is reputed to have torn a dragon’s head off its shoulders when he was a baby – and Hiccup believes it. Our toothpick of a hero-to-be is apprenticed to his father’s best friend, Gobber [Craig Ferguson], the village blacksmith where he supposedly can’t get into trouble [which is something that happens virtually every time he goes outside].
That changes when, during a dragon raid, he shoots down a Night Fury and befriends it. Through his friendship with Toothless, he learns why the dragons raid his village for food – and tries to explain to his father. This after becoming a star in training to fight dragons – using knowledge he gains from his friendship with Toothless. Along the way, he earns first the disdain of warrior teen Astrid [America Ferrara], then her respect and finally… well, you know.
Going in to the 2D screening, I wondered how the filmmakers [Dean Deblois, who wrote the screenplay, and Chris Sanders] could possibly make Vikings likable. After, all, historically they were monsters. Apparently, all you have to do is turn all their aggression towards dragons [thus skipping past all the raping and pillaging], give them Scottish accents and create a delightfully engaging soundtrack of Celtic/Celtic-sounding music. Oh, and give them odd names [to keep away trolls – who steal socks, but only the left ones].
Setting history firmly to one side and just going with it, using a Norse framework to tell a coming-of-age/teen rebellion tale does give it a certain freshness; a freshness that is supported by a combination of dialogue and delivery. For example, ‘Thanks for nothing, you useless reptile’ may seem like a decent enough line on the page, but context and Baruchel’s delivery elevate it to comic gold [it’s a line that’s funny in the trailer but even funnier in the context of the film].
And what of the 2D/3D thing? In 2D, the film flies; in 3D it soars. While there’s plenty of fun in the scenes in the village – and lots of creepiness in the Viking hunt for the dragons’ nest – in both 2 and 3D – the film takes flight when Hiccup and Toothless [and later, Astrid] do. In 2D, the flight sequences are splendid and fun, but in 3D, it feels like you‘re there with them and they become magnificent.
Unlike certain action sequences in Alice in Wonderland, where the 3D got fuzzy, the 3D in How to Train Your Dragon is razor sharp and really draws you into the experience. The characters are likable and engaging and everything works story-wise, but the film would worth seeing for just the flying sequences. Combine those with all the other elements of the film that work and the result is memorable.
Final Grade: A