The whole time I was watching How To Train Your Dragon, I kept thinking that this was the movie that Avatar should have been trying to be. Rather than riding on the coat-tails of technology, pretending to be revolutionary, HTTYD doesn’t bother with pretentiousness. It knows it’s a cartoon and has fun doing it.
The story itself is familiar, although the blatantly violent viking flavour is a nice turn. The movie tells the tale of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young, nerdy viking, whose father (Gerard Butler) is the leader of the village who would love nothing more than for his son to man up and learn to fight. Due to the vikings’ stubborn nature, they refuse to uproot themselves, despite a fairly constant barrage from a swarms of dragons. This culture, where kids go to dragon-fighting school, is the world that Hiccup is trying, unsuccessfully to grow up in. Then, one day, he finds an injured dragon, who he befriends, and conventional children’s narrative structure ensues.
As with the other movie mentioned above, this one also moves through the required stages of its story (like the “my dad is proud of me, because I have falsely lived up to his expectations”/”my dad hates me because I lied and have defiled his way of life”/”my dad sees value in who I am and apologizes” scenes), but the style and humour of the film make it easy to forgive its comfortable predictability.
The first, and best reason for falling in like with this movie is Hiccup’s dragon pal, who he names “Toothless.” Much like Wall-E before him, Toothless is 1) adorable and 2) capable of recognizing, and trying to replicate human behaviours. For the last week, any time anyone mentions this movie, my fiancee simply replies “I want one [a Toothless]” and it’s definitely cute enough that I’m tempted to try to make that happen. It might turn into a Marley & Me kind of situation, with a dragon running through the apartment, but we’ll make it work.
Toothless, some other giggles, as well as a thorough, vast repertoire of different dragon species, were making for a slightly-better-than-average animated experience and then we got to the final showdown. Here, the writers got into a bit of a conundrum. If the eventual goal of the movie is to promote harmony between the vikings and the dragons, what force could possibly unite them? How about a really really really freaking big dragon? By throwing in a gigantic creature that looks like a crossbreed between the T-Rex from Jurassic Park and the monster from Cloverfield, the characters are able to overcome their initial speciesism to try and take out this absurdly enormous foe. Despite using a lot of adjectives and adverbs, I still don’t feel like I’m getting across the serious threat that this mega-dragonzilla represents. For awhile, despite the previously mentioned connect-the-dots plot, I was actually worried that Hiccup was going to lose. And boy, is it ever awesome when he and Toothless are finally able to save the day.