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Review: How to Train Your Dragon

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After the wedding yesterday, I was heading home when I realized that it might be a good time to finally go see How to Train Your Dragon.

I saw a preview for it some weeks ago, and it looked kinda fun; looked like it was not brilliant, but potentially cute. And I've been meaning to see one of the new 3D movies for some time, and this one seemed like a good candidate for that.

So I went, expecting it to be mildly enjoyable.

Instead, it was totally awesome.

(I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here, but I'll say a few things that are pretty obvious from the trailer but that you might not want to know if you prefer to go into movies knowing nothing about them.)

I dunno, maybe I just happened to be in the right mood for it (despite a slight headache). But I kept waiting for them to do something wrong, and they never did.

Oh, sure, there are a few minor annoyances and distractions. The biggest one for me was probably the fact that the adult Vikings speak with Scottish accents. (And the kid Vikings speak with American accents.) I mean, I like Scottish accents, and it worked well, it just took me a little while to stop saying to myself, "They're Vikings! Why are they Scottish?" (Gerard Butler, who plays the father in the movie, said in an interview: "A strong Celtic accent lends itself to Viking-ness[....] It lends itself to any kind of warrior breed." Whatevs, Gerard.)

So you have to just ignore that, or not be bothered by it. And there are a few political winces here and there; for example, I think it technically passes the Bechdel/Wallace test, but I'm not certain of that, and even if it does, it only barely does. (Though I quite liked the female lead.)

But all of my criticisms and concerns were minor as far as I was concerned. I adored this movie.

The 3D probably added a bit to the TOTALLY FABULOUS flying scenes, but I suspect they would be almost as good without the 3D stuff. And I am a sucker for a good flying scene.

But it's not just a fun movie about flying. It's about family expectations (though I'm sorry to report it's yet another entry in the "animated movies featuring single-parent dads with barely a mention of the dead or absent mom" category); it's about friendship; it's about the usual kids'-movie stuff like being who you are; it has a few fairly subtle touches of mostly nicely-handled disability stuff; oh, yes, and it's about the scientific method. (Bet you didn't expect that last!)

Also, and most importantly for me, it's about one aspect of what Le Guin described in her Foreword to The Birthday of the World and Other Stories:

To create difference—to establish strangeness—then to let the fiery arc of human emotion leap and close the gap: this acrobatics of the imagination fascinates and satisfies me as no other.

In particular, though I don't know that this is quite what Le Guin was talking about, the moment in sf when two beings face each other across that gap and recognize shared personhood: when it's done well, it often makes me cry. As it did here.

I actually cried quite a bit at this movie, just 'cause so much of it felt so right. It's not that the plot will really surprise anybody; it's just that they did it so well.

Or, again, maybe I was just in the right mood for it.

Afterward, I was telling Kam how much I'd enjoyed it, and she pointed out that it was directed by the same guys who wrote and directed Lilo & Stitch; they were also involved in the script for Dragon, though I'm not clear on how much. And I said, "Oh! That explains a lot." The movie definitely felt a little L & S-like in various ways, and the dragon has a bit of a Stitch look to him. This movie's probably not quite as stupendously awesome as Lilo & Stitch, but it comes pretty close.

Btw, as far as I can tell from glancing at the first few pages of the book that the movie is based on, the plot of the movie bears little resemblance to the plot of the book; some very basic pieces of backstory and worldbuilding are extremely different. The book looks like it might be fun in a very different way, but don't go into the movie expecting it to have much to do with the book.

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