Directed By – Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois
Featuring the Voices of – Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig
Story by – Cressida Cowell adapted by Adam F. Goldberg, Peter Tolan, Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders
Dreamworks has been angling towards something like this for a while. Finally they hit a gold mine. Stealing the talented creators of Lilo & Stitch, Dreamworks managed to step up their game from trash like Antz, The Prince of Egypt and The Road To El Dorado to middling but soon dated material like Shrek, Shrek 2, A Shark Tale and Over The Hedge. It wasn’t until Madagascar that they finally found the heart to match the brains. Madagascar 2 was almost as good except for the political message they tried to shoehorn in an attempt to battle California’s Prop 8 (really, does my kid need to see a Penguin marry a car ornament?). The excellent Kung Fu Panda avoided any such pitfalls, and with Dragon, they have perfected the art of entertaining children and adults.
Just stay true to who you are, is, in essence, the prescient message implored to young Hiccup by more than one wise adult in his old village filled new houses. In a movie such as this, the reason for the new houses are the presumably terrible dragons flying about and grabbing the livestock and generally wreaking havoc on the town. Hiccup, aptly voiced by Baruchel, thinks he can take part in “killing” the dragons. He is small, but can build things. His father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) wants him behind doors, as he knows that “this” (he gestures to all of his son) is not enough to be a dragon killing Viking.
Of course, Hiccup sneaks out and takes his best shot, which, so happens, knocks out the dreaded and little seen Night Fury out of the sky. Within a few days he has met, almost killed and decided to help this elusive, but, as it turns out, very misunderstood dragon. In fact, as Hiccup is entered into dragon training back in his town while simultaneously training his own dragon friend, Toothless, he learns that everything they knew about dragons is wrong.
This would seem a typical setup for a tree-hugging movie about live and let live. Thankfully, it does not go that route. Something is causing the dragons, who act more like cats, to grab livestock from the area. As a result, the killing on both sides (Viking and dragon) has become a byproduct: just something both are used to. The writers navigate this tricky terrain, allowing brave characters to be brave, foolish characters to be foolish, but not too foolish, and letting misguided characters still have nobility. There is also no shortage of violence that has an actual effect on people in the film.
The dialogue is fresh and brilliantly delivered by the actors, many of which are playing against body type. This is unusual, but it works well.
The best voice work, provided by Butler and Craig Ferguson, sounds close enough to stereotypical Viking, without falling into parody. Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are great fun as well. But this is Baruchel’s movie. He and America Ferrara offer a beautiful young pair who approach the same goals and are smartly drawn enough to avoid the faux crises. It also helps that there are no typically bland, or as my brother Steve calls them vapid “Disney Parents” being dense just for the sake of the scene filler shoulder shrugging scenes.
The animation in this film is hands down the best that dreamworks has ever even approached. The last fight scenes are
unforgettable and actually improve with repeat viewings. Toothless is about as adorable a dragon as I have seen while still being effectively menacing. My wife caught on with the connection to Stitch without knowing the connection. Truly, the resemblance is astute.
The ingenuity of the characters is commendable, too. Instead of being the one bigh thing that solves everything, each repair or change works as a piece of the whole. Hiccup makes repairs to the tail of Toothless, Gobbler makes repairs to himself and Hiccup, and they both make repairs to the tools of the village. No one is too clever to be believed. They are searching for function, not for brilliance. The way it all works together with no fanfare is the brilliant part.
Watching this movie, you feel part of the old town, with all its new buildings. The people are caring of one another, still poking fun, but understand that life has consequences. One of the consequences is death. Death is not an obvious, sad note, drawn out to exaggerated effect. It is not an easily dismissed. In fact, it is a point of pride to take your hit, pay your respects, and move on. So immersed in this world are we, that it takes one’s mind a journey to get back to present day. Many good sequels could be made in a world like this. Many characters are still capable of growth in this enlightened world.