Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Last March, Dreamworks Animation SKG's new animated film How to Train Your Dragon won the hearts of both the audience and critics! This time the reception is extremely positive. The movie has received a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, an online rating site that has never given a Dreamworks animated film anything higher than a 90%. Time Magazine has announced that Dreamwork's caliber is now equivalent to that produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Competition between these two dominant studios will now be but a hair's width apart, assuming that Dreamworks quality remains consistent in its future animated features.

As with all the recent CG films, this film gets a gold star for stunning imagery---BUT allow me to be more specific so I don't sound redundant. Let's track back to the time when Dreamworks first started on its 3D path, in particularly with the movie Antz. The modeling of the characters in that movie are blocky and crude compared to the detailed sculptures in Dragon. Hiccup's father, for example, looks so real, so real that I have to remind myself constantly that he's just a cartoon. Cartoon, however, is probably an understatement. The detail of the fur on his pelt, the wisps of red hair on his beard, and the speckles on his skin, the lighting of the environments...All of this realism really sucks you into Hiccup's wild world of dragons and vikings.

Not to mention the back breaking use of the cameras. I do not know what type of cameras Dreamworks use, but from what I have learned so far with cameras on 3D software (I emphasize that I am terribly noob at Maya)...I just can't imagine how they moved the cameras so that it appears as if you are flying with the characters. You're dipping and diving through clouds and soaring across the ocean, dodging jagged rocks just in the nick of time. As a noob, I already thought it was difficult just setting up ONE camera, adjusting its lens, adjusting the view planes, and putting it in the right place so that an entire scene is properly captured. The professionals probably have an entirely different system of using cameras, so maybe the little that I learned did not apply to what they had to do at all -_- .

The action sequences are impressive, but what's most captivating are the quieter and intimate moments between Toothless and Hiccup. My favorite scene in particular was when Hiccup drew a picture of Toothless on the sand with a twig and Toothless imitates him using a gigantic tree branch. When Hiccup steps on his drawing, Toothless growls, and when Hiccup steps off the drawing, Toothless stops growling. Then Hiccup hesitantly touches Toothless on the nose. That part for me was just a real twang at the heart.

What makes the film so much more successful is its powerful script. It's very witty, with subtle jokes that adults can enjoy while not traumatizing the children. The writers did not let anything slip from beginning to the end (In the beginning Hiccup says "The only problems are the pests" and at the end he says the only thing that is amazing are the "pets". CLEVER HUH?) It is th
e script and storyline that really impresses us when we leave the theater. To be honest I did not think the preview was anything extraordinary when I first saw it, it looked like another banal Pocahontas and Avatar (still love those movies though) story. So it was no wonder I was very surprised when a third party enters the plot and changes the original perspective of the situation. It was truly a well spun tale.

I am very happy that Dreamworks has finally received such high reception from everyone. Though the studio is known for its inconsistency in the quality of their films, they have released many great productions like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. The studio has proven its capability of making good films, but they have been outshone by the Pixar's consistent streak of successful hits. It must have stung the whole studio when Jack Black joked that he would use the money he made from Dreamworks and bet it all on Pixar winning the Academy Awards. I believe this love for Pixar is partially due to t
he biased feeling that the studio was established first (Like old Disney vs. Warner Brothers Productions and Max Fleischer cartoons) and also the timing of the productions release.

My favorite 2D animated film is actually a Dreamworks production , the Prince of Egypt. In my opinion it is the most epic film using the animated medium. The visual style is so compelling and suitable for the Egyptian setting. More importantly, it contains the most powerful universal message that transcends princess stories and cute animals---the power of faith. Prince of Egypt was relevant to Katzenberg's original motto "We bring out the adult in every child"(I don't know if he still adheres to that...), and it worked, sometimes. Too bad CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg had to shut down the 2D department after flops like Sinbad and shifted to the 3D medium. Dreamworks almost declared bankruptcy twice and has struggled to come up with a successful box office hit. Now it finally has, and boy does it deserve it after all these years!

So go watch How to Train Your Dragon, support the artists at Dreamworks SKG!

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