We have had films adapted from video games since at least 1993's Super Mario Bros, a film so bad even its stars gave interviews slagging it off. What may be a slightly newer phenomenon is the film pre-adapted to suit a later adaptation into a video game. Adapted from Cressida Cowell's hugely popular children's book, but changed considerably in the process, everything about How to Train Your Dragon seems to be designed to suit its later adaptation to games console, from its multiple, quirkily distinct young characters to allow a choice of avatars, to the multiple varieties of dragons, of which the young Snotlout endless repeats their stats in the manner of Top Trump cards. Every setpiece recalls its arcade double, from the training sequence in the ring, familiar from beat 'em ups like Mortal Kombat, to the final showdown with the big 'end of level' baddy. Running scared from the loss of revenue represented by internet piracy, the studio executives respond in the same two ways they always have: gimmicks (such as 3D), and merchandising opportunities, and HTTYD has both in spades. Even the dragons look designed to favour a smooth translation to cuddly toy.
The plot centres on a weedy, misfit viking, played with an old-fashioned dweebiness by Jay Baruchel (soon to appear in Trotsky as a high school boy who thinks he's the former People's Commissar), the laughing stock of the community, until his burgeoning friendship with a dragon cnonsidered more fearsome than all the others (albeit with an appearance modelled on the extra-terrestrial dog in Sanders's earlier Lilo & Stitch) makes of him a sort of dragon whisperer to the amazement of his family and peers. Ultimately, the boy, whose name is Hiccup, persuades his compatriots that "Everything we know about [dragons] is wrong" – they are not vicious, bloodthirsty creatures, but gentle, friendly ones. The film ends with vikings and dragons uniting against an even greater common enemy.
Beneath this apparently cosy liberal facade, however, lies a more conservative core. What, for instance, in the midst of continuing escalation in Afghanistan, are young Americans to make of a line such as the one uttered by the sassy young girl viking, Astrid (played by Ugly Betty's America Ferrara), "Our parents' war is about to become our war - time to work out which side you are on." ? Of course, ultimately, the hawkish Astrid is proved wrong in her insistence on a total, unequivocal crusade against the dragons, and by the end of the film the community has come round to the thinking of the 'pinko' Hiccup, who sympathises with, and believes in negotiating / co-operating with, the dragons (read communists, terrorists, etc.). But this is basically irrelevant when we are dealing with a film whose purpose is simply to sell video games, video games whose operation is disturbingly similar to that of the remote weaponry operated by the U.S. military since the first Gulf War, the playing of which constitutes, materially and actually, training and preparation for war.
SECOND OPINION :: Neil Davey ★★★★★ Kung-Fu Panda showed that, when it comes to animated movies, there's - finally! - life beyond Pixar. How To Train Your Dragon, Dreamwork's latest animation takes the standards achieved by the martial artist mammal and raises them by some considerable margin. The detail is impeccable - the 3D is excellent, some of the scenery is photo-realistic, the characters have pores and freckles, hell you can even find yourself distracted by the look of the chieftain's beard or the texture of Hiccup's shirt - but this is no mere triumph of style over substance. The story is a cracker, the script is genuinely funny, the characters are beautifully drawn - in both senses of the word - and the set-pieces are thrilling and intense. Yes, there's the slight weirdness of the accents (why are the adult Vikings Scottish and the youngsters American?) but hey, that's Hollywood, they do that sort of shit and hell, it's easy to forgive that little quirk when the rest of the film is so blooming glorious.