From the studio that brought you Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda comes How to Train Your Dragon—an adventure comedy set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild fire-breathing dragons, based on the book by Cressida Cowell. The story centers around a Viking teenager named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), who lives on the Island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life. The teen's rather progressive views and offbeat sense of humor don't sit too well with his tribe or its chief…who just happens to be Hiccup's father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). When Hiccup is included in Dragon Training with the other Viking teens—Astrid (America Ferrara), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller)—he sees his chance to prove he has what it takes to be a fighter. But when he encounters (and ultimately befriends) an injured dragon, his world is flipped upside down, and what started out as Hiccup's one shot to prove himself turns into an opportunity to set a new course for the future of the entire tribe.
Dreamworks Animation has definitely had its ups and downs in the past, but no matter what they did they always seemed to be stuck in Pixar's humongous shadow. Sure Dreamworks has had some worthwhile animated movies like the first 'Shrek,' and 'Kung Fu Panda,' but we've also had to endure movies like 'Bee Movie,' 'Shrek 3,' and 'Shark Tale' from them. More misses than hits when it came to their animation department. That's why I was so surprised with 'How to Train Your Dragon.' It was smart, witty, fun, and exciting. With the exception of 'Kung Fu Panda,' I don't think there's been one film in the Dreamworks Animation catalogue for which I can use the word "exciting" to describe how it felt to watch it. 'How to Train Your Dragon' works in so many different ways that it doesn't feel like this is coming from the same studio that brought you 'Shrek 3.' Maybe Dreamworks has finally turned a corner.
A young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) lives in a tiny town called Berk. Berk is a nice place, except for the constant dragon attacks. Yes, the town is attacked rather frequently by all types of dragons. The dragons steal the Viking's sheep, set fire to houses, and basically just run amok. The Vikings view the dragons as large fire-breathing pests that need to be dealt with. Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) is the leader of the town. He's a large, foreboding Viking with a thick red beard. No one would ever suspect that his son is the skinny, non-dragon-killing Hiccup.
Hiccup desperately wants to impress his father, but in a culture where killing dragons is everything, he isn't quite cut out to do it. Hiccup is more of an inventor, and has invented a catapult type system that he wants to use to capture dragons. Since he's the laughing-stock of the town, no one takes him seriously. One night during an attack Hiccup rolls his catapult out to a distant outcrop and fires it at what he thinks is a Night Fury. There are many different types of dragons, but a Night Fury has never been seen.
As is expected Hiccup captures the Night Fury, and becomes friends with it over the course of the movie. He is able to help it fly again after he invents an artificial tail wing for it after its natural one was hurt when Hiccup first shot it.
While much of 'How to Train Your Dragon' is predictable, man is it exciting! The thought put into each and every dragon species is marvelous and fun. The animation is bright and lively even though Dreamworks still needs to master animating human faces (they always look just a bit too stiff). If you missed this in theaters it's a shame, because when Hiccup soars on the back of Toothless (that's what he names his new found friend) it really is an experience. When I talked about this movie being exciting I meant it. It really is. Hiccup swoops and flies over the ocean. He dives and climbs. All this adds up to one of the most exhilarating animated movies out there. Every bit as thrilling as the climax escape scene in 'Toy Story 3.'
Dreamworks still hasn't gotten to the stage that it can tell a multi-faceted story like Pixar and still create the sense of whimsy to go along with it. Pixar still trumps them when it comes to complex characters and plots. Even though 'How to Train Your Dragon' is predictable in many ways, it's all about the ride here, and oh what a ride it is.
For those of you who saw this movie on (real) Imax screens during its run in theaters, then you know exactly how amazing this movie looks. I'm proud to announce that 'How to Train Your Dragon' on Blu-ray looks just as amazing and detailed as it ever did on the big screen. Its 1080p presentation is picture-perfect eye candy that will entrance the little ones and impress even the hardened HD critic. The detail in this transfer is eye-catching and spectacular. From the exceedingly fine hairs of Stoick's beard to the tiny scales that cover each dragon's body, every detail is visible and striking. One scene where Hiccup gazes into the eye of Toothless is jaw-droppingly amazing. You can see all sorts of lines, flecks, and colors that make up Toothless' green cat-like eyes.
The movie is full of quick camera movements that pan around blue and black skies as Toothless and Hiccup soar through them. If there were going to be any sort of technical anomalies like blocking or banding they would be here. Thankfully there isn't an oddity to be seen. The flying scenes are composed of crystal clear imagery that is never encumbered by the nuisance of artifacting. There is some rather significant banding visible during the menu (it flips through numerous scenes in the movie) as it shows Hiccup and Astrid flying through the sky, which had me a little frightened before I started the movie. Even though the banding shows up during the menu it doesn't crop up at all during the actual movie.
Colors are marvelous here. From lush forest greens to the jet-black body of Toothless, each and every color is perfectly rendered and pleasing to the eye. Crushing never takes over during the darker scenes, where even the slightest detail of rust on a shield or hair on a head is visible. There isn't one thing in this transfer that should drop its score below the demo-worthy mark. It looks just as good as any Pixar film has ever looked on Blu-ray.
If you thought the video was impressive, wait until you get a taste of the audio presentation. This is a mix that provides everything that fans of the movie, and hardcore audiofiles will be looking for. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is phenomenal in its scope and feel. Panning effects are rendered to perfection as dragons swoop and dive from one side of the screen to another. The bass roars from the sub-woofer when they shoot fire from their mouths. Whenever fire is shot straight at the screen it's almost as if you are engulfed by the flames. You can hear the roar of fire start in the front channels and seamlessly travel to the rear channels. Directionality is flawless, as Vikings scream off screen during dragon attacks, or as dragons snap up helpless sheep to the side of our view. Dialogue is perfectly prioritized so as not to get drowned out during even the most exciting action scenes. Even during the calmer scenes, like when Hiccup is trying to befriend Toothless, you can hear birds chirping in the rear speakers and wind blowing around you. This is an audio presentation that truly sucks you into the experience. Not to give anything away, but 'How to Train Your Dragon' has one of the most action-packed climaxes of any animated movie out there, and when it comes your room, no your house, it will have its foundation shaken. It's an amazing experience that complements the stellar video transfer wonderfully. If the video transfer is eye candy, surely this is ear candy. It's as demo-worthy as they come.
To put it in its most simple terms, 'How to Train Your Dragon' is a must own. That's about all there is to it. It's by far one of if not the best efforts from Dreamworks Animation we've seen to date. It's also one of the best looking and sounding Blu-ray releases of the year. This is one that parents and children will be able to enjoy and that's always a plus. It's thrilling, heart-pounding dragon action that has been packed onto a Blu-ray that truly is able to showcase the audio and video majesty of the movie. Just pick this one up. Do it now.