Friday, March 26, 2010
By Abbey Khan
On the island of Berk, it’s survival of the fittest with Vikings at war with the dragons. Initially, awkward teen Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) wants to slay dragons to prove to his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), the chief of the tribe, that he is worthy and to impress the beautiful Astrid (America Ferrera). But when Hiccup befriends a dragon, he must convince his people that the creatures are not the enemy and helps set a new way of life on the island.
The film is based on the children’s book of the same name by English author Cressida Cowell who says that the books weren’t inspired by Scandinavia. “They were inspired by my childhood which was spent in London but also partially on an uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland, which in fact was the first place the Vikings came to when they invaded Great Britain. So it was set on a real place which was this island that we would be dropped off by a local fisherman and picked up again two weeks later and there was nothing, literally nothing, no houses, no mobile phone. Because I experienced all those things as a child, I think that comes through sometimes in the book.”
Some of the main characters including Hiccup’s pet dragon, Toothless, and competitive dragon slayer, Astrid, do not appear in the books. Producer Bonnie Arnold believes Astrid is a good addition to the film because she is a strong female character and it’s important for that to come through. “Women have just as big of a place in this world as men do,” she said. There actually aren’t any female characters in the first book, which Cowell didn’t even notice until her own daughter pointed it out. She later wrote a female character named Kamikaze in the third book of the series.
Ferrera enjoyed playing the character but doesn’t see any of herself in Astrid. “She looks very different from me, which was fun for me because I didn’t feel the pressure to really create the character,” she said. “It’s one of the easiest and most fun jobs I’ve ever had because I could show up and watch the finished product and think they created this character. I provided the voice, I gave them choices and options, and they took it and made it so much better than I could have ever really imagined this character to be.”
In contrast, Butler felt the animators captured a lot of his mannerisms. “When I first went into the room and they had the cameras on me, I thought why are you doing this because I have a sheet of paper in front of me that I’m reading from and I don’t want to feel pressured of being animated in any way. And then closer to the film, my animator cut together a DVD of me in the movie and those particular sequences and of me in the studio and some of those things were the exact same performance. And I think what they were saying is that what you do is of value. And there are parts of me that I see as an actor where I would call complete overacting that I see even in the movie that works better in the cartoon than in real life.”
Baruchel identifies with his character, Hiccup, and his inner struggle of who he is and who he’s supposed to be. “To me, the movie is kind of an analogy for any kind of artsy kid in high school that isn’t playing football or hockey,” he said. “The point of the movie to me is all of the things of when you’re young that you’re taught or your sorted feelings or inadequacies are ultimately what sets you apart and makes you kind of special and that’s what Hiccup is. It’s about finding your place in time.”
No plans have been made for a sequel, but Arnold admits that DreamWorks has the rights to Cowell’s entire series.
Through its animation and 3D special effects, the film is obviously targeting young boys mostly and young girls, but it fails to establish a core audience. There’s just too much violence that children 7 and under should not be exposed to, and the incessant use of the word ‘killing’ throughout the film by the Vikings, who are initially identified as the good guys, makes the action seem positive, giving older children the wrong impression. Pre-teen boys may enjoy the violence but will not want to see the film because the animation seems to be geared to younger kids. Although the film teaches a good lesson in the end, it misses everywhere else.
How to Train Your Dragon is a Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation film. The movie also features the voices of Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and TJ Miller and is out in theaters and on IMAX screens on March 26, 2010.