Tuesday, March 16, 2010

DreamWorks Animation Vikings and Dragons

DreamWorks latest animation movie is “How to Train Your Dragon”

The Vikings are all brawn and matted, bushy hair and there's an implication of not much brains while the dragons are a menagerie of fierce flying, fire-belching, multitasking creatures that fear and are feared in equal measure. From this, DreamWorks Animation tries to fashion a 3D movie that will intrigue kids and adults alike but might play raggedly in both camps.

Despite its jocular title, the film contains intense action scenes and violence, enough so that small children supplied a background of cries at one recent screening. Nonetheless, March 26 should find long lines in front of cinemas. How favorably youngsters respond to the dragons might determine what kind of legs the cartoon eventually will achieve.

The film is directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who did the marvelous "Lilo & Stitch." In many ways, it's the same movie: A child adopts, and then tames a lethal creature. But the intimacy and pop culture references of the "Lilo & Stitch" story are jettisoned in favor of ancient warriors and mythical creatures that feel remote. It's hard to form a rooting interest in either Vikings or dragons.

More curious from an animation standpoint are the dull human characters. They are plastic creatures that look like ads for children's dolls. Most of the male Vikings come off as no-neck athletes on steroids. The youngsters look closer to cartoon humans, and at least they come in different sizes, with our protagonist and a valiant young Viking girl who catches his eye being downright skinny.

The centerpiece of the movie is a developing friendship between a Viking boy, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), and a dragon nicknamed Toothless. By befriending rather than killing a wounded dragon as tradition and genes should dictate Hiccup realizes that everything his elders know about dragons is wrong.

Dragons are trainable, peaceable and affectionate. But try telling that to tribal elders or your father (Gerard Butler) who just happens to be the chief or even that friendly dragon master (Craig Ferguson, thickening that Scottish brogue even more if such a thing were possible).

The film treats them with ambivalence as the animators can't decide between ferocity and cuddliness. Toothless has a kind of feline look, and the others look like they belong in a Chinatown parade. "Dragon" represents a solid effort from DreamWorks, but the audience perhaps feels the effort more than it should.


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