Seeing Alice In Wonderland and How To Train Your Dragon back-to-back this weekend clearly didn't do the former any favors; Dragon was so much more enjoyable that I wished I could've gotten back the cash I'd plunked down for Alice to see the latter again.
It's no secret that Dreamworks Animation has a checkered history in terms of quality releases. Kung Fu Panda was an oyster pearl lying in a sea of disappointment; disappointments like Shrek The Third, Flushed Away, and The Bee Movie. Last year's Monsters vs Aliens didn't exactly make a whole lot of waves either, so it always comes as a genuine shock when a film as good as How To Train Your Dragon comes out from the studio.
Like Panda, Dragon feels less like a typical Dreamworks project, and quite a bit more like a Pixar one. It doesn't go the pop-culture and satirical references route, but simply aims to tell a solid coming-of-age tale, and the importance of acceptance. The twist this time is that it's not just our central character who undergoes this journey, but most of the supporting cast too. The companionship between Toothless and Hiccup (played to meek, geeky perfection by Jay Baruchel) is paced extremely well; the trailers would have you believe that they automatically end up as friends, but that isn't the case. There's a realistic sense of progression to their precarious but growing trust, their bond cultivating into a number of incredible sequences toward the latter half. The affliction between Hiccup's loyalties to his tribe and the dragons he chooses to associate with is a sharp and meaningful contrast that makes for a terrific story.
The overall look of the movie is great, if still a few notches below Pixar's best efforts. The choreography is stunning, though, especially during the exhilarating flight sequences. Avatar still remains the one to beat when it comes to 3D, but Dragon convinces me that this is the second best use I've seen of the gimmick since Coraline.
And John Powell's score is MAGIC. There are strains of Hancock's impossibly uplifting "The Moon And The Superhero" main theme, but more epic, medieval and Scottish. This is no more evident than in the track This Is Berk. Most of the score works both in and out of the film, but Romantic Flight brings about a truly lovely sense of elegance for a sequence you simply need to see in context. It's wonderful stuff, and music storytelling at its finest.
I'm still bubbling with excitement. It's obviously silly for me to say at this early point in time, but I'll be damned if this doesn't crop up as one of my top five films of 2010.