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Massawyrm discovers that HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON isn't a colorful euphemism!!

Hola all. Massawyrm here. Somewhere between the lofty, delightful successes of KUNG FU PANDA and OVER THE HEDGE and the bored, obnoxious tedium of MONSTERS VS ALIENS and SHREK THE THIRD, Dreamworks Animation has found a middle ground with the respectable, enjoyable, but utterly forgettable HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. A perfectly admirable take on the classic a-boy-and-his-dog story, the film’s only problems are its adherence to one convention while it shamefully shuns another. It is everything it wants to be: fluffy, adorable and occasionally funny; but sadly it lacks the magic to make it anything resembling a classic. Set in a Viking village on a cold, rocky, remote island somewhere within the Arctic Circle, the film centers around Hiccup – voiced by Paramount’s current man of the hour, Jay Baruchel - the young, nerdy, scrawny son of the epic level Viking chieftain Stoick – voiced by 300’s Gerard Butler. These choices, while understandable from a marketing perspective, are among of the film’s oddest. I’ll buy the notion of Scottish Vikings, but when all the adults sound Scottish and their kids are voiced by the youngest members of the Judd Apatow stable, there becomes a certain level of disconnect. Apparently, not only do dragons exist in this universe, but so too do Scottish accents that develop with age. But once you get past the accents, the movie is actually pretty cool. This nearly uninhabitable island, beset by 9 months of winter and three months of summer hail, has one other problem: it is attacked by dragons with the frequency of bad weather. Adapting to these ever threatening conditions, the Vikings have become a society of dragon slayers, going so far as to have training in the art of killing them. Enter Hiccup - the brainy, clumsy stereotype ever the embarrassment of his hero father who wants nothing more than to earn that father’s respect. When one of Hiccup’s traps downs a Night Fury – the most deadly and mysterious of the invading dragons – he gets his chance at his first kill. But he can’t do it. And that’s when this becomes a by the book a-boy-and-his-dog story. Visually impressive and loaded with a number of great character design choices, this film is simply wonderful to look at. Every dragon has its own look and feel and the Vikings all share this mythical quality that makes them look more like overdeveloped video game characters than people – and I mean that in the best way possible. The story moves along at a good clip and hits all the right notes that a family film should, being just as entertaining to adults as it is to children. So where does it go wrong? Two places. The first is that it adheres way to close to the standard storyline of this kind of film. It’s a movie about the son of a dragon slayer who befriends a dragon; thus the film is all about filling in the blanks until our hero discovers that “Everything we know about you…is wrong.” It goes from being a shell game of hide the dragon to the standard But dad, you don’t understand! They’re not our enemy, on through all the classic tropes you’re expecting. You can set your watch by the revelations in this film. Kids will find this story new and exciting, but adults, while being entertained, will find the story almost overly familiar as this has few real surprises to it. The second problem has long been a problem with Dreamworks Animation itself. They have no teeth. Their films almost universally have the same ending, a bizarre world in which everyone gets what they want as universes meld together to create some kind of lasting peace in which everyone lives together in harmony forever. Or some variation thereof. Normally this is fine as it isn’t like their films exist in any sort of reality to begin with. But really great a-boy-and-his-dog stories don’t end well. Instead, they end perfectly. And by perfectly I mean you weep like a little girl. Whether OLD YELLER or E.T., the story ends in a manner in which you really want everyone to live happily ever after together, but you know they can’t. Dreamworks Animation, despite their association with Spielberg (once the reigning king of such things) doesn’t believe in those endings. It’s exactly why everyone compares them unfavorably against Pixar. Pixar isn’t afraid to make you cry. Hell, they pretty much encourage it. But HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON isn’t Pixar. It’s Dreamworks. And continuing the Dreamworks aesthetic, this film proves to be an inoffensive, Saturday afternoon matinee safe for the whole family and absolutely free of tears. It’s definitely worth a look, but simply lacks the emotional punch to leave a lasting mark. I like this movie, and enjoyed it while it was on. But days later I was struggling to remember details and had to re-watch the trailer to refresh my memory. I really love what they were attempting here; I just wish they’d manage to pack some real heart into this somewhere. Solid, but forgettable.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. Massawyrm
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Readers Talkback
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  • March 25, 2010, 8:42 a.m. CST

    Double Post?

    by Galactic

  • March 25, 2010, 8:43 a.m. CST

    So good it's worth mentioning twice!

    by Aphex Twin

    I'm fuckin' with ya big wyrm.

  • March 25, 2010, 8:52 a.m. CST

    Yeah Aphex Twin, nice that you made that clear.

    by dr sauch

    Bro. But even wyrm would get it. Dude.

  • March 25, 2010, 8:54 a.m. CST

    The first review was so fucking good..

    by JBouganim1

    that i decided to read it again

  • March 25, 2010, 8:54 a.m. CST

    Sounds like Massa does too many drugs

    by SoylentMean

    or has frontal lobe issues. Having to refer to a trailer of a film days after seeing the film to dredge up any memories of said film is probably more a personal biology issue than any fault of the filmmakers. <P> Massa, see a doctor.

  • March 25, 2010, 8:55 a.m. CST

    does the movie end...

    by Bouncy X

    ..with Hiccup saying the dragon's name and going "..i choose you!!" ?

  • March 25, 2010, 8:56 a.m. CST

    Everybody double post, for Massa

    by SoylentMean

    For the children.<P> For the antelopes.<P> For delicious pastries left unattended on windowsills.<P>

  • March 25, 2010, 9:06 a.m. CST

    If you were going to post twice...

    by Ronald Raygun

    you should have made one review really positive and the other overly negative to confuse everybody. Again.

  • March 25, 2010, 9:21 a.m. CST

    simultaneous posting in two talkbacks

    by Cyan09

    which one of these is going to get deleted?

  • March 25, 2010, 9:24 a.m. CST

    the other one I guess

    by Cyan09

    did anyone really expect this movie to be anything other than crap?

  • March 25, 2010, 9:27 a.m. CST

    do people not read the other comments?

    by Bouncy X

    you'd think after seeing multiple people comments on the double post mistake, they'd realize its been covered and let it go but nooooo...there's a few more after. is everyone just as bored as me or something? :P

  • March 25, 2010, 9:33 a.m. CST

    bored and...

    by Cyan09

    yea just bored.

  • March 25, 2010, 9:35 a.m. CST

    Why are the voiceovers on the TV spots...

    by CatVutt

    Referring to it as just "Dragons"? Anybody else notice this?

  • March 25, 2010, 9:43 a.m. CST

    The hell is isn't...

    by spud mcspud


  • March 25, 2010, 9:46 a.m. CST

    Spare us the Pixar pedestal love fest

    by seasider

    Pixar is no doubt the best at what they do but let's not pretend they're not guilty of a lot of the same things you accuse Dreamworks of. To date Picar has only had a couple of films that made the PG rating. By contrast Dreamworks films are never afraid to use profanity and violence when called for. To judge a movie just on it's ability to draw tears is ridiculous.

  • March 25, 2010, 10:15 a.m. CST

    I pretty much knew how the movie went without watching

    by ricarleite2

    I havent seen this, but let me take a guess. It's probably 100 minutes long, so the first act lasts about 25 minutes (being Dreamworks Animation, maybe longer, they hate this thing called "pacing"). It introduces the characters and the dragons. The main character is wimpy but likeable, so audiences relate to him. So he finds a dragon who is different, befriends him and humorous situations between the two of them take place so we start to like the dragon and wish it to remain with the kid. Second act is the kid hiding his dragon pet and through tense situations and a villain who opposes any attempt to admit dragons might be good, his secret is found. No one understands him, so the dragon is hurt or locked. The villain is actually planning something against the main characters, and his plan is revealed at the end of act two. On act three the kid and the dragon overcome the problems imposed by the other characters and save the day, beating the villain. Since the villain was a greater threat then the dragons, all characters now come to realize the kid was right, and befriend the dragons. The end. Let me know later if I got it right.

  • March 25, 2010, 10:16 a.m. CST

    9 months of winter?

    by Flibbertygibbet

    Yep, that'll be Scotland then. On a good year.

  • March 25, 2010, 10:47 a.m. CST

    Pixar is just as predictable.

    by blackwood

    Name me one Pixar film that doesn't end with some variation on WACKY CHASE SCENE, VILLAIN COMEUPPANCE, LEARNING SOMETHING, BEING HAPPY. Pixar does have heart in a way that few other animation studios ever have, but there has never been an ambiguous ending in any of their films. They aren't tough.

  • March 25, 2010, 10:57 a.m. CST

    I'm sure my 4 year old will be comparing this to all movies from

    by Jabroni

    You are reviewing a movie for kids, why does everyone think that every movie has to re-invent the wheel. Do you really think a 4 or 5 year old cares that it's doesn't end like "Old Yeller"? My son hasn't even seen "Old Yeller" yet. And why the hate for "Monsters vs. Aliens". I have watched that at least 3 times with my son and we love it. "Dragon" looks like it's going to be a nice way to spend the afternoon with my son, then we can grab a chocolate shake afterwards. Who doesn't love dragons??

  • March 25, 2010, 11:02 a.m. CST

    finally.... some pixar critiques!

    by robamenta

    im glad to see some thoughtful comments on thier films

  • March 25, 2010, 11:06 a.m. CST

    Not making you cry is why Dreamworks makes $$$

    by jimbojones123

    Disney may bust their ass to put together a better product, but it does not pay off for them. Dreamworks formula sells popcorn, DVDs, Happy Meals, and lends itself to half produced sequels. Why would they screw that up and make a movie that kids do not want to watch 4-5 times a week?

  • March 25, 2010, 11:30 a.m. CST

    Yes Pixar is predictable with their last few films

    by Rupee88

    Up was a borefest and totally by the numbers...Cars was unremarkable and that movie about the rats was unwatchable.

  • March 25, 2010, 1:11 p.m. CST

    predictable hollywood bullshit?!?

    by eROKv

    here we are with the latest installment of hollywood attempting to teach our kids that there isnt anything to worry about in the world and we should all just get along great and then they grow up and get smashed in the face with some horrible life-problem and realize that they have been getting smoke blown up their asses their entire lives. wonderful stuff, keep it coming!!

  • March 25, 2010, 3:32 p.m. CST

    Over The Hedge was a "lofty, delightful success"?

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    I found it stale and generic. Monsters vs. Aliens at least had that awesome action sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge.

  • March 25, 2010, 3:39 p.m. CST

    So when does Kick ass come out...

    by andyny29

    you know a movie that looks cool anyway

  • March 25, 2010, 5:17 p.m. CST

    Time to go to bed and train my dragon

    by HagCeli

  • March 25, 2010, 5:25 p.m. CST


    by Darkman

    You're not the only one. It's like the thinking is 'Ow! Too many words! Hurt my...thinking ball!' <br><br> If the film was called DRAGONS, maybe I could understand, but they don't want to say the whole title? Tough titty toenails for them! <br><br> Regardless, I'm looking forward to the movie.

  • March 25, 2010, 6:52 p.m. CST


    by nukeboy1970

    When did it become a crime against humanity to make a movie for kids?

  • March 25, 2010, 7:18 p.m. CST

    Wow, wow. Wait a minute. The last 3 Pixar was solid.

    by ricarleite2

    Tell me what the fuck is predictable on Ratatouille and Up? I give you WALL-E, but that was fucking masterpiece storytelling, and it was original, regardless if the message or the setting was not. Pixar still has that magical artistic touch on everything they do, maaaaybe not on Bugs Life or Cars, but that's me. Dreamworks produces animated features. Period. Shrek 1 and 2 are funny, and that's it. The rest? Crap.

  • March 25, 2010, 7:45 p.m. CST

    Dreamworks churns out the kind of animated flicks...

    by JayLenoTookMyJob

    ...that I end up going with my brother and his kids to see when I visit for the holidays. Generic, kid-friendly, safe, by-the-numbers, boring pablum containing nothing offensive or even vaguely edgy. Wimpy but ambitous lead, disapproving father, catches but then admires dragon, kid & dragon become pals, kid helps hide dragon with perky tomboy (but not too butchy) female friend, kid and tomboy have to save dragon, kid convinces everyone that dragons aren't bad after all, everyone sings a song. Didn't see it, didn't have to see it to guess the plot, it's the same damn plot as always! Glad there's no holiday in effect right now.

  • March 25, 2010, 9:01 p.m. CST

    "...fluffy, adorable and occasionally funny...but not a classic.

    by Fandude7

    Massawyrm, that's all we want. Why does every movie of this type have to be a classic? I will see it and enjoy the heck out of it. Fandude7 out.

  • March 26, 2010, 4:17 a.m. CST


    by Holy Hell

    That was Dreamworks, right? Way better that A Bug's Life. Best boy-and-his-dog animated feature that isn't really about a dog? The Iron Giant.

  • March 26, 2010, 8:01 p.m. CST

    Liked it too -- a lot

    by jimbojones123

    Best feel good fun movie I have seen in quite a while. Why is that bad?

  • Jan. 17, 2011, 3:02 p.m. CST

    by Kira

    I know this is old news, but I wholly disagree with your critique. I think you've underestimated the basic premise of the movie; it wasn't simply a boy and his dog story. The whole point of it is that dragons are much more intelligent than the Vikings had previously gave them credit for- not simple-minded beasts that need to be exterminated. Hiccup's relationship with Toothless is so much more than that of one with a dog. They /depend/ on each other. It didn't have the perfect ending you described either, unless you saw a different movie than me. Hiccup lost his leg; not many movies intended for children go so far as that. There were repreccusions to the battle at the end, the true effects of violence. The characters weren't all perfect and shiny after the battle, which I believe is highly respectable, especially for a children's film. It was also highly symbolic, which ties back into the 'more than a boy and his dog story'.

  • April 5, 2012, 4:28 p.m. CST

    Also late to the party but had to disagree anyway...

    by jerseycajun

    Finally got around to seeing this. Though I often agree with Massawyrm on any variety of films, I couldn't disagree more on this one. Some of the movies he's comparing it to do require a death/separation at the end of the film, but the requirement isn't determined by the loosely defined scenario the film falls into (boy and his dog), but rather a characteristic more specific to an individual film, and that's the requirement posed by the solution to the film's main problem. The film's primary problem is the conflict set up between Hiccup and his father, and to resolve it does not require the death of the beloved pet, but simply expressing in the strongest way possible, what he was trying to convince him of, at pain, clear risk of life and (loss) of limb. That was the focus and goal as I read it, and since it fulfilled that, and in fairly spectacular fashion, while wearing it's emotions proudly without rubbing our face in them, is more praise worthy than I believe it's been given here. The film didn't waste time with anything unnecessary, and it didn't rush itself getting where it had to go. While Pixar is usually fantastic in the way that subtle but complex dishes are prepared at four-star dining establishments, "Dragon" is simple, homemade macaroni and cheese, with a dash of hot sauce. It's fantastic and completely satisfying in the way only homemade comfort food can fulfill. Simple things done well, that warm the soul like that are worthy of remembrance.