I often talk about how certain directors are actually two different filmmakers who share the same name. Surely the Wes Craven who directed Vampire in Brooklyn and Deadly Friend couldn't be the same guy who directed A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, or Red Eye. And could the same Chris Columbus have helmed both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief? By that token, the folks at Dreamworks Animation seem to suffer from a sort of split personality disorder as well. Sometimes they give us A Shark Tale and Monsters Vs. Aliens and sometimes they give us Over the Hedge and Kung Fu Panda. Which Dreamworks showed up for work this time? Well, I spent $16.50 on my IMAX 3D ticket and I don't feel the least bit ripped off.
A token amount of plot -- In a small Viking village plagued by decades of dragon attacks, the son of the village head yearns to impress his father by becoming a dragon hunter himself. Yet fate casts a wicked spell when the young Hiccup (Jay Barachul) accidentally injures a young dragon and is shocked when it shows mercy. Deciding to nurse the creature back to health, Hiccup soon discovers that dragons are not quite the thoughtless killing machines that the world has presumed, and he's soon torn between his desire to please his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) by becoming a dragon slayer and his realization that the generations-long war between Viking and dragon may not be so simple a conflict.
The story isn't exactly groundbreaking, and it's actually similar in plot and theme to Miss Spider's Froggy Day in Sunny Patch (was one of Tony Jay's last projects). You can probably chart out most (but not all) of the major developments before they occur, but the film is done with such high style and sheer quality that the well-worn myth becomes new again. The animation is beyond beautiful and the 3D is genuinely immersive. With all of the current hub-bub about studios racing to convert their live-action films into 3D, here is a shining example of how powerful a tool it can be in animation, especially if it was planned that way from the start. This film easily stands alongside Coraline and Avatar as one of the finest theatrical 3D experiences thus far. There are moments that look so three-dimensional that I could have sworn I was looking at claymation. To the picture's credit, most of the visual razzle-dazzle is held back until the second half of the picture while the first half is allotted to character development and storytelling. But the visuals are at-times breathtaking, especially the second act moments of Hiccup flying on the back of a newly healed 'Toothless'. If you can, splurge for IMAX and sit as close as you comfortably can.
How to Train Your Dragon: an IMAX 3D Experience
rated PG (sequences of intense action, some scary images, brief mild language)
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