DIRECTED BY CHRIS SANDERS and DEAN DeBLOIS
WITH THE VOICES OF JAY BARUCHEL, GERARD BUTLER, CRAIG FERGUSON, AMERICA FERRERA, CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE, JONAH HILL, T.J. MILLER, DAVID TENNANT and KRISTEN WIIG
In a fair follow-up to the phenomenal success of ‘Kung Fu Panda’, Dreamworks Studios goes ahead with a second exploit on a tale set in exotic land – if it was a sublime parody-cum-tribute of the martial-arts mainstay in the Orient with ‘Kung Fu Panda’, ‘How to Train your Dragon’ is a feature on almost the same lines, except it’s Vikings instead. And dragons, as opposed to creatures from the Chinese Zodiac, hammers and axes instead of bare hands. It is an adaptation, as we learn, from a nine-part set of children’s picture books by a pair of filmmakers who were previously involved in the Disney production ‘Lilo and Stitch’ – something that points at the fact that they know their ‘terms of endearment’ pretty well on a bond between two outcasts in a mutual find.
Vikings slay dragons. They don’t eat them, it’s the quintessential hostility of man towards the beast, something that started with survival and matured to a thing of pride. And in this near-barbarian sect where men are rated upon their heftiness as much as their dragon-slaying ability is our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) of diminutive stature and hence characteristically named, the son of the chief of tribe called Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) and a potential insult to the same - think Mumble from ‘Happy Feet’ with a hundred more times of occupational hazard as much as peer pressure. There’s not much less of the latter either, what with the love-interest being more potent, not to mention a show-off, a nerd and a not-too-game-changing pair of fraternal twins in an All-American bunch of Celtic descent? Perhaps it’s excusable, perhaps they’re growing up on Viking versions of ‘Ugly Betty’ and Judd Apatow; perhaps that explains the choice of voice actors in a curious toss-in of a cast. The kind of thing that’s headed to a global Box Office listing but with Oscar shots: like a ‘Eurotrip’ with a head and a heart.
Set aside my concerns on why Ms. Ferrera voices the daring Blonde, why Christopher Mintz-Plasse does a fat bookworm, and why on earth Jonah Hill gets to be the pretentious schoolyard bully, ‘How to Train your Dragon’ has stuff enough to pull one’s mind away from trifles, in strong resemblance to its Dreamworks predecessor, particularly with a soundtrack that does half its work – John Powell is quite the find as far as animated ventures are concerned, he succeeds in fusing two worlds together in his background score that turns out to be twice as enticing an experience. To add to it, of course, is the studio’s penchant for fancy sketches, cuddly characters and scenic brilliance. The Night Fury, for instance, is one of the most endearing animated characters I’ve watched in quite a while – he speaks with his eyes, laughs in delight and flies with such aerodynamic precision that it’s a joy to watch him go. But he’s piloted, he’s not on his own – it’s an accident, but not without its share of insights. And the result is a bond, something that ends in a way where there’s no ‘one’ without the ‘other’. Like ‘Seabiscuit’ with a longer shot and permanent damage.
‘How to Train your Dragon’ tells us the story of how Vikings ended up with Dragons from being opposed to them, the tale of how man found utility away from ‘striking first’. It is an insight into a concept, the introduction to ‘Berk’ in a sort of set-up for more to come. Perhaps there’s a heavier sequel, perhaps this is the most they could do, but it’s enough. Enough to inspire faith in an audience who would have loved it anyway; enough to provide some ‘time well-spent’ with nothing too swash-buckling, ironically.