June 13, 2010

MOVIES: How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders, 2010)

Very good animated tale of a teenaged Viking boy whose friendship with a dragon makes him an even bigger misfit than he already was.

There's fine voice work from Gerard Butler, who's more charming and likable as the blustery Viking chieftain than he has been in his recent slew of romantic comedies; Craig Ferguson, particularly effective late in the film when he goes into full sycophantic mode; and America Ferrera, sounding unusually young and girly as the romantic interest. Jay Baruchel, in the lead role of teenaged Viking Hiccup, is less distinctive or interesting than his supporting players.

The animation is superb, and the dragon flying sequences are nearly as exciting as the similar scenes from Avatar. The first big scene, in which Hiccup and his dragon Toothless figure out how this flying thing is going to work, is especially thrilling.

What really struck me about the story is that, even more than most misfit-comes-of-age stories, this one reads very strongly as an allegory about a gay teen. You've got a scrawny, sensitive boy who can't win the approval of his father or the other more traditionally "manly" men in the community, and he's hiding a secret relationship that he fears would lead to his complete ostracism from a community that already mistrusts his unorthodox sensibilities.There's an "I know your secret" speech for Hiccup's father -- Hiccup thinks that dad has learned about Toothless, but his father's talking about something else entirely -- that would need only minor rewriting to be right at home in a gay coming-out movie.

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