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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
For the last year, Paramount and DreamWorks Home Entertainment have made 'How to Train Your Dragon 3D' available exclusively only to Samsung 3D home theater products. The Region Free, BD50 disc appears identical to that release except they've replaced the 'Megamind' trailer for 'Puss in Boots.' It also arrives with new cover art that resembles the one seen on the regular BD edition and housed inside the normal blue keepcase with a DVD-9 on an opposing panel. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu where they can choose between the 2D or 3D version of the film when pressing "Play."
One of the more impressive aspects of 'How to Train Your Dragon' is the animation — an interesting combination of cartoonish figures and gorgeous landscape views of the village's natural surroundings.
On this 1080p presentation (2.35:1), the beautiful artwork almost seems increased ten-fold as vivid, richly-saturated primaries leap from the screen, lending an intensely energetic quality to the presentation. The softer pastels and secondary hues are equally dazzling, finishing the presentation with vigorous life and warmth. The overall picture comes with pitch-perfect, comfortably bright contrast levels, allowing viewers to see the incredible effort and time put forth by the movie's creators. Blacks are sumptuous and opulent, providing the image with a wealth of dimensionality.
Even with the 3D glasses, which naturally darken the picture, contrast and brightness levels remain flamboyant throughout. The direct digital-to-digital transfer is immaculate, exposing every minute line with extraordinary clarity and distinctness. Hair, beards and the threading of the Viking apparel are particularly jaw-dropping. Fine-object detailing is simply phenomenal as we can make out individual pebbles on the ground, the subtle grains and blemishes on woodwork, and every chiseled dent on the stones in the architecture. When characters travel into the woods, each leaf and blade of grass is crystal-clear with outstanding lifelike movement. Poorly-lit interiors and nighttime scenes also exhibit terrific shadow details with all background info plainly evident.
'How to Train Your Dragon' is amazing to watch and the added 3D effect with dark glasses does nothing to ruin the film's enjoyment. Visibility never comes into question as characters walk about in a believable three-dimensional space. There's a great deal of perceptible distance between objects that's constant and consistent from beginning to end. When Hiccup reads alone in the great hall, we can sense he's sitting alone as the room truly feels immense, even while absorbed in shadows. A few instances of fun gimmick shots remind viewers they're definitely watching a 3D movie while crosstalk ranges from barely perceptible to practically non-existent. The best moments are without a doubt the flying sequences, where the several inspiring aerial landscape shots show remarkable depth. They're absolutely breathtaking, making this a highly enjoyable 3D presentation for a wonderfully entertaining movie.
Probably of most interest here is the subtle change from a 5.1 soundtrack to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 design. The differences between them? Not really any if barely a trifling perception of more sound due to the added two channels. For all intents and purposes, this track is identical as the one found on the 2D version of the movie. Why the extra speakers is a mystery since the way it was before was already phenomenal and pure reference level.
Nonetheless, this somewhat newer audio track remains an exciting and thrilling demo-quality presentation with exceptional directionality. Movement and pans between the speakers is fluid and convincing as the several flybys terrific extend the soundfield. Rear activity creates a wonderfully immersive aural experience with the delicate atmospheric sounds of wilderness. Of course, the real showpiece of this lossless mix is the final battle towards the end, giving the entire system a thorough workout. Low-frequency effects are thunderous and authoritative with stunning accuracy and precise response. Dynamic range is extensive and room-penetrating with rich clarity and sharp differentiation between the various elements. The soundstage exhibits terrific warmth and fidelity, keeping viewers engaged from its opening segments to the closing credits. Dialogue is delivered cleanly and flawlessly in the center of the screen, making Jay Baruchel's unmistakable voice perfectly audible at all times.
Overall, the lossless mix, now in 7.1, puts on a first-rate, reference level show for fans to enjoy.
Finally released of its Samsung exclusivity deal, this Blu-ray 3D edition of 'How to Train Your Dragon' arrives as a bare-bones release with a 3D preview for DreamWorks's latest animated feature, 'Puss in Boots.' The only other addition is a DVD copy of the movie.
'How to Train Your Dragon' is a humorous and engaging story with a great deal of heart at its core. With a strong ensemble of voice talent and the touching tale of a boy and his dragon, the CGI-animated film is a whole lot of fun for the entire family. The newly-released Blu-ray 3D edition of the film makes it a must-have for owners of the format, although the package lacks all the supplemental material found on the 2D version. Still, it's wonderful presentation both in terms of the visuals as well as the audio.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.