Movie of the Week 5/26/14: How to Train Your Dragon

a1-how-to-train-your-dragon-hd-6Over the years, Dreamworks Animation has largely developed a reputation as being a lowbrow kids-only entertainment house, which is unfortunate because it’s probably kept some people from fully embracing their more fully-formed and distinctive works. How To Train Your Dragon is possibly the best film they’ve made so far, and with the sequel on the way I’ve been meaning to revisit it. Combining that with the fact I thought Shiran would like the central relationship of the story, it was a natural fit for our Movie of the Week

Many things have changed for me since I first saw How to Train Your Dragon, the most relevant of which is that I got my first pet. While I found the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless likable before, I find it even more relatable and touching now that I have a pet of my own (it doesn’t hurt that my cat is black with greenish eyes, just like our hero dragon). But it goes deeper than that; initially, Toothless is hostile and defensive- much like our cat was when we got him- and the status quo at the beginning of the film is that dragons are seen as pests and dangers, just as I used to be much more uncomfortable with animals myself. Watching Hiccup slowly earning Toothless’ trust, and then seeing them both protect and help each other triumph together, is a very heartwarming experience, and even moreso having gone through a similar evolution with our cat. It’s actually very similar to Lilo & Stitch, also directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, which I just saw for the first time and also registered with me the same way.

While the Hiccup/Toothless relationship is the best one of the film, that should not be seen as a dismissal of the relationships Hiccup also has with Astrid and his father, which are also very well played with much less overall screentime. While Hiccups infatuation with Astrid is very obvious, and his relationship with his father is pretty standard as well, both interactions are handled well, with the actors really nailing the emotion (particularly Gerard Butler as the dad). And Hiccup’s blossoming romance with Astrid is actually used to emphasize the relationship between him and Toothless as well, which brings all the characters together as one functional whole.

Aside from all that mushy stuff, the animation is gorgeous, the music is solid, and the action is fun and exciting. While How to Train Your Dragon doesn’t fully transcend its kid-oriented origin the way the best of Pixar does, it is still a well-crafted story that anyone should be able to enjoy, especially those of us with pets. Speaking of, here’s Shiran’s take:

Brendan was spot on in assuming I would respond most to the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. I was lucky enough to grow up with a pet who I counted as my best friend, so Hiccup’s kindness and affection for Toothless really resonated with me, as I’m sure it would with any other animal lover. While I had heard for years that How To Train Your Dragon was a touching movie, and had been planning to check it out for a while, I always assumed that Toothless was a talking character. Instead, the movie makes a much lovelier choice by letting the beautiful animation speak for him, highlighting the small physical gestures Toothless makes to signal his trust and love for Hiccup. I love that — the sweet, nonverbal relationship between human and pet is rarely portrayed as accurately as it is in this animated children’s movie about a viking and a dragon.

Back soon with Shiran’s latest choice! Stay tuned.

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