RETROREVIEWS #19: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)

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MAY 26, 2013 SCREENING: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)

 

How to Train Your Dragon is one film that I was really looking forward to, and selected it specifically as the final “dragon” themed movie in my fantasy film marathon so it would go out with a bang. Everything leading up to the screening sounded great. How to Train Your Dragon had near universal praise when it was released, earning a 98% overall “fresh” rating when all the critics reviews were averaged on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also a huge hit. Not only have two sequels already been announced, they even started doing direct-to-video spinoffs to cash in on the movie’s success. It was made by DreamWorks, and they have an virtually impeccable record as the alternate to Disney & Pixar for 3D CGI kids movies. The movie looked intriguing too – with a boy standing alone in the twilight, looking up in awe as he touches a stoic majestic dragon beast for the first time (even if the dragon looks more like a snake in that poster). No matter what, I was certain, this would be a good movie.

 

I hated this movie.

 

Yes, you read that right. In fact, this may be the ONLY place on the internet, or maybe even on the planet, where you will find a review with the same words. Even in the extreme minority of critics who shared my opinion that this movie was not good (I counted only three on Rotten Tomatoes), the resulting review was more along the lines of “Meh, this movie was okay but could have been more creative and bold”, rather than a “this movie sucks and there’s nothing worthwhile about it” reaction that I had after seeing the movie. Anyone out there who’s reading this now might very well think “this guy has either lost his mind or all credibility by giving a negative review to this awesome movie”. However, if the point of a film blog is to give readers an honest opinion and something they haven’t heard before, I have to tell you flat out: I found nothing good about How to Train Your Dragon. If I’m the lone person to hate this movie, so be it. How to Train Your Dragon is NOT recommended and here is why:

 

The premise of the movie is about a Viking village from the dark ages that is being plagued by dragons stealing their livestock. So far, so good. Minutes into the movie however, “Vikings” begin to speak, and for some completely unknown and bizarre reason, all the Viking men sound like Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons or Scotty on Star Trek. Now, I’m well aware this is a fantasy film about imaginary creatures that is aimed at children. Never-the-less, if you’re going to use something from the “real world” like a “viking village”, you have to stick to basic logic about what that place would be like. Happy Feet is about talking penguins, but it doesn’t purport that they live in Nevada. How to Train Your Dragon, however, would have us believe that Viking warriors all sounded like Scotsmen, even though reality tells us that real-life Vikings actually terrorized, raped, plundered, and tortured the people of Scotland.

 

To make matters worse, the children of these “viking warriors” speak with stereotypical California surfer boy accents. Apparently, the filmmakers intent in doing this was to empathize the “generation gap” between the adults and their younger generation. Hence, we’re presented with a eighth century “Viking village” inhabited by middle aged Scottish men, and teens from modern day Pasadena.

 

If you can get past this jarring idea, you can try to follow the film’s storyline. It is about the eldest son of the village chieftain Stoick the Vast, named “Hiccup” (he doesn’t hiccup so I have no idea why he has this nickname). As you would expect, Hiccup discovers a “dragon” while alone in the forest one day. He names the dragon “Toothless”, and this time we’re actually given a reason for the nickname, since he thinks the dragon has no teeth at first.

 

Unfortunately, once we meet “Toothless” and other “dragons”, we’re presented with another problem. The “dragon” looks even less like a dragon than it did in the poster image. This concept might work if “Toothless” was presented as a kind and gentle dragon that is outcast and different from dragon society, but we’re introduced to numerous other “dragons” that the viking teens must learn to fight, and apparently the animators at DreamWorks decided none of them should look anything remotely like dragons from folklore. Instead, they look like various types of Pokemon. If this movie had been named “How to Train Your Pokemon”, it would have been excellent character designs. As it stands, it makes the “vampires” in Twilight like look traditional in comparison.

 

With all those glaring elements in execution that prevent this film’s “fantasy” world from having any kind of vision consistent with the story and themes it is trying to tell, we’re left with the basic plot and characters. Most of the viking warriors are your standard stock character tough guys, and the kids in the film are your standard lighthearted rebellious teen protagonists from a thousand other movies – especially DreamWorks and Pixar movies. There’s lots of “comic relief” during the scenes where the teens have to learn how to capture dragons, but I got no amusement out of any of the “jokes”. The story I was presented with was a waste of time.

 

Of course, “Hiccup” befriends “Toothless” and learns that not all dragons are bad while he is increasingly alienated from his father, Scotty MacScot (oops, I mean Stoick the Vast) who is convinced all dragons are the scum of the earth and a pestilence to be wiped out. An hour into the movie, Stoick the Scot finds out that “Hiccup” has secretly had “Toothless” as a pet all this time, so he cruelly takes the dragon away and places him into a cage as we get the standard father/son “but he’s really good, you just don’t understand, dad!” argument copied and pasted from other movies. Shortly afterward, Stoick the Scot gets kidnapped and I got so frustrated with the film that I turned off the DVD player. The film’s ending is coming a mile away: Toothless escapes from his cage, rescues Scotty, and the dad realizes that he was wrong and there are some good dragons after all, so he lets Hiccup keep Toothless and everybody hugs and lives happily ever after. Maybe we get another throw away joke as more “comic relief” before the end credits if we’re lucky.

 

And there you have it, a basic summery why I think How to Train Your Dragon was a lousy movie. Hate my reasons if you wish, or hate my review, but I just can’t shake the lingering fact that I hate this movie. The plot and characters are entirely predictable cliches, and the execution of this movie failed on every level for me. I don’t know if they thought they were being edgy and creative by abandoning any resemblance of the story they’re trying to tell, but the end result was a mess that gave us “Scottish Warriors teach American Teens How to Train Pokemon”. Had that been the premise, I could live with it. But that wasn’t what the story was about, and thus it didn’t work. It was a weak story told even worse.

 

* out of ****

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