Tag: dean deblois

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World


How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Despite all the dragons, the Vikings, massive ships, and stealth rescue missions gone wrong, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” written and directed by Dean DeBlois, excels during wordless moments when entertainment is created only through stunning animation and carefully crafted music. These instances, like a dragon courting another or longtime friends coming to terms with the inevitable, are beautiful and moving, appealing to both children and adults who appreciate storytelling more than empty and busy action. Although a third installment in a trilogy, the film is not bereft of introducing ways to dazzle.

This time, the central conflict revolves around Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) learning to become an effective leader of a community of Vikings who have grown reliant on dragons—so reliant that their island has gotten overcrowded. Due to the minute details of animation, we recognize that something has got to give from the moment we lay eyes on their island home of Berk. It is admirable that the answer to the main question is not simply moving to bigger, newer lands offering fresh resources. The screenplay offers long-term solutions both in terms of the needs of humans and dragons. As a result, there is finality to the story and it feels right.

Moving on with life is a recurring theme and it is executed with wonderful perspicuity. I think most important is the fact that the material assumes children are smart. For instance, when Toothless, Hiccup’s dragon companion, comes across a female dragon of the same species, their connection is not reduced to a silly love story or romance. Sure, there are cute moments which involve Toothless’ many attempts to impress the white dragon (with whom Astrid, Hiccup’s betrothed, voiced by America Ferrera, refers to as “Light Fury”), but the point is to generate laughter and to communicate a creature’s sheer joy for having discovered he is not the only one in the world of his kind, rather than to simply introduce a limp romance that merely functions as padding to the story.

Observe closely during these sequences. It is stunning how much range of emotions is communicated through the dragons’ eyes, their body language, how fast or slowly they move, how their nostrils flare at moments of surprise or curiosity, how their limbs relax when they hover the air. One could watch Toothless and Light Fury on mute and yet not much would be taken out of the experience. It is that effective in delivering precise thoughts and emotions. It is here that it becomes readily apparent the film is superior than most animated movies, especially those that rely too much on noise and color to create junk entertainment.

The villain is formidable. Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) is a dragon hunter who takes pride in killing dragons, especially Night Furies. He does not hate these creatures, but he enjoys playing games with them before going for the kill. On more than one occasion, the character is shown to be intelligent, always one step ahead, and experienced in the art of the hunt. However, the final confrontation with Grimmel lacks a certain level of catharsis. For such a detestable character, it would have been preferred if Grimmel had gotten his comeuppance. At the same time, however, an argument can be made that taking on a more expected approach surrounding heroes and villains might have lessened the point that the story is trying to make. It is not about good versus evil.

How to Train Your Dragon 2


How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

It was no surprise to me that Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ “How to Train Your Dragon” became a big hit upon its release because the story is heartwarming, the animation is visually striking, and the script offers magical, funny, and genuinely sensitive moments. It is perfect for children and adults because the themes it deals with, despite dragons being at the forefront, are relevant and relatable. The dragon can symbolize a pet or a new sibling.

“How To Train Your Dragon 2” is a less impressive sequel but one that still entertains. It looks even better than the original—which is a statement because the predecessor has set a standard on how animated aerial acrobatics ought to look like and how they can transport the audience into an experience. However, although the sequel tries to be as good as the original, it has enough shortcomings script-wise that prevent one from being fully immersed into the central conflict. That is, the looming threat of Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) and his army of dragons.

“Expansion” is the word that comes to mind. Although his father (Gerard Butler) wishes to make him chief of Berk, a place where Vikings and dragons have learned to co-exist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) does not feel that leading his village is the right path for him to take. He would rather ride on the back of his dragon named Toothless, explore unknown lands, and create a map of his discoveries. The film does a good job in making us feel that there is more to its universe than Berk, its dragons, and people. If another sequel were to be made some time in the future, it would be interesting to see what other creatures and cultures reside in undiscovered archipelagos.

It is surprising that the film comes up short when it comes to subtle characterization because that is one of the greatest strengths of its predecessor. Here, although Hiccup and Toothless do get a few cute and amusing interactions, we never get a chance to see their relationship advance or evolve in a meaningful way. There is an emotional scene between them that takes place in the latter half which comes across disingenuous. There is no believable drama there because an arc has not been established.

Most disappointing is its treatment of the side characters—especially Hiccup’s friends. They have a handful one-liners worthy of a few chuckles but they do not really do anything substantial that can change the game completely.

Astrid (America Ferrera) is Hiccup’s romantic interest. Although she is somewhat interesting to watch because she has gusto and is able to handle herself in tricky situations, like the other young Vikings, she appears and disappears to the script’s convenience, seemingly only there to say a few lines of exposition or to set up a joke. It is as if the writers—William Davies, Dean DeBois, and Chris Sanders—have forgotten that the target audience is children. Thus, shouldn’t the younger characters get more dimension and not be relegated to cardboard cutouts?

I very much appreciated the material’s willingness to tackle more mature themes such as reconnecting with family. My favorite scene was when a character sings to reignite the past even though the film is no musical. The song is there not to be catchy or cute or sell the soundtrack. It is there because it holds meaning to particular characters and we are there witness a beautiful and touching moment. I wished that the picture commanded that level of insight and power throughout.

How to Train Your Dragon


How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This enormously entertaining PG-rated children’s movie was about a small and skinny Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who had to capture a dragon and kill it so he could prove that he was a real Viking and make his father (Gerard Butler) proud. Well, he managed to accidentally capture one but he decided to train it instead because he saw a part of himself in the dragon’s eyes when it was scared and helpless. In general, what I love about most about children’s movies is their simplicity. But what I think makes a superior animated feature is how the movie can explore that simplicity and extract valuable lessons about life that even some adults haven’t quite grasped. I think “How to Train Your Dragon,” directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, managed to capture that essence so I was highly entertained. But I must warn others that this film was more about the story than the jokes. The humor was certainly there, especially the scenes that involved Hiccup and his rivals (America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig) fighting dragons, but the focus was on the bond between a boy and his pet dragon. I think it’s a great movie for children to watch because it’s highly energetic, colorful, and there were real moments of suspense (the impressive dragon nest scene and the final battle) and wonder. A main lesson that could be learned was acceptance: treating others with respect even though we don’t agree with their beliefs, putting our feet in someone else’s shoes in order to understand someone better, respecting animals and nature, and being comfortable with who we are even though we may not look or feel like the ideal at the moment. It’s funny because I think in some ways this was comparable to Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Both movies ask us to jump into a world where pretty much anything could exist. However, “How to Train Your Dragon” was a superior experience because it did not sacrifice its storytelling and character development for the sake of visual complexity (which was very strong but it was secondary compared to everything else). Moreover, “How to Train Your Dragon” was consistently amusing while “Alice in Wonderland,” lest we forget was also a PG-rated movie, left me somewhat confused and frustrated with how it wasted its potential. In a nutshell, “How to Train Your Dragon” was inspired–inspired to entertain and to just tell a story that was simple but highly involving. In the end, it made me want to have a dragon as a pet so I could train it just like in those very addictive Pokémon games.