For the majority of its existence, DreamWorks Animation has lived under the shadow of Pixar; the animation studio which completely changed, redefined & revolutionized its genre with their unprecedented & jaw-dropping computer animation combined with heartfelt & emotionally rich quality stories that appeals to viewers of all ages. Add to that, Pixar’s films even today remains the standard by which all the other 3D animation features are measured. DreamWorks Animation started as Pixar’s first competitor & even though it has come a long way since its inception, it still has miles to go before it can match Pixar’s level of excellence in craftsmanship, both in story (which has been dropping lately) & animation (which remains unparalleled).
After hitting their first high with Shrek in 2001 & then another in 2008 with Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks Animation at last crafted something that expertly balances the story & animation elements and unveiled it in the form of How To Train Your Dragon; their finest feature, so far. Set in a mythical Viking world in which a village is plagued by dragon attacks, it tells the story of Hiccup; a young teenager who wants to step into his father’s footsteps by becoming a dragon slayer. During one attack, he wounds a fierce dragon by fluke but after finding out that he has no desire to kill it, Hiccup instead befriends the dragon by earning its trust & starts taking care of it, thus gaining a deeper knowledge about dragons in the process which he later uses to convince his tribe that dragons aren’t so bad after all & both species can happily co-exist.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this film to be as brilliant as it turned out to be. I am a huge fan of Pixar & sometimes tend to be biased for their works but of lately I’ve discovered that DreamWorks Animation ain’t so bad after all, nor are other animation studios working in the industry today. I loved Shrek, had a blast watching Kung Fu Panda, but How To Train Your Dragon remains the most satisfying experience I had, both emotionally & viscerally, when it comes to this studio’s works. The story is wonderfully fleshed out by the writers & is executed with even more finesse on the film canvas, the characters are intriguing & worthy of our emotional investment, the dragons are vividly imagined, designed & rendered on the screen, the humour is perfectly timed and the whole drama radiates a surprising depth & warmth throughout its runtime.
Coming to the animation, the film is amazing to look at & is meticulously detailed from its opening moments. It doesn’t break any new grounds to push the animation industry forward like Pixar does with their every next feature but it nonetheless creates a perfect ambience for its viewers & is impressive enough to pull them into its magical world. The casting is good too with most voice actors fitting their screen characters & I really admire the concept of how Hiccup modifies the dragon’s wounded tail so that it can fly again plus the chemistry between the two is beautifully carried out. Editing makes sure that every scene that makes into the final product is significant to its plot. And the absolutely magnificent score by John Powell is the driving force here which amplifies this adventure by providing the emotional highs & lows to its viewers wherever it is intended & whenever it is intended.
I haven’t enjoyed DreamWorks Animation features as much as I’ve enjoyed Pixar over the years. The slapstick humour the former presents in its story is astounding, the tales are often very light-hearted & makes for a highly entertaining family film but I’m more a game for the latter’s exquisite balance between its dazzling animation & storytelling capabilities which provides an incredibly rich cinematic experience that very few films can emulate. With Shrek, Kung Fu Panda & now this film, DreamWorks Animation proves that it is capable of churning out all-round quality products & I hope they really do in the coming years. On an overall scale, How To Train Your Dragon is a fascinating blend of an engrossing story, intelligent script, gorgeous animation, captivating characters, excellent production design & wonderful music that promises a thrilling ride to its viewers & smoothly delivers it. A rollicking adventure for all ages.