Once there was a movie chosen randomly at the library. The movie started with decent animation, descended into beautiful screenshots, and exploded with story.
That movie was How to Train Your Dragon, based on the book series by Cressida Cowell. At the same library with the DVD were about five books from the series, and I had room on my library account. I read five books in two days, even with an orchestra concert in the middle of it.
I would not have done so if I hadn't seen the movie first, looked it up online, and found out about the books. In fact, I may have glazed over them while randomly picking novels off the shelves in different library sections. The reason is simple: Cowell has received less promotion in the US than some of her European counterparts like J.K. Rowling, although she is well known in the UK. Although this lack of fanfare makes her more accessible, it also makes her less well-known; I hope that last few books in the series will rectify that international slight.
Cressida Cowell wrote a blog entry about why she loved the movie adaptation of her book, and I agree with her on all of her points: all the changes were made with good reason, Toothless is adorable in both versions, Hiccup's relationship with his father is painfully realistic, and we see the beauty of Berk and Cowell's childhood in three-dimensional animation. In addition, the movie has been nominated for two Oscars and for a good reason; we have a beautiful example of storytelling that inspires the imagination's flight. I mean to explain why since it has inspired tremendous feeling in myself:
The background music for How to Train your Dragon is epic, exploiting all potential tones through the orchestra, lending emotion that the animation can sometimes not provide. Small wonder it nearly won an Oscar, losing to the Social Network. In the beginning, the epic music may seem campy, and you are right to think so when we are introduced to Vikings and their comic brusqueness; it then becomes powerful when you see Hiccup fly on his dragon for the first time. The music continues to amplify the dramatic tension and action into the movie’s climax, where we get a giant dragon kicking Norse butt and nearly killing it. I won't say WHO the dragon is, but you will see if you nab the movie on DVD.
Part of the movie’s success also lies in how it handles genius. The two aspects of genius--invention and testing-- must go hand in hand when attempting to create something new. You have to take the risk and learn from your mistakes. In lesser movies, genius would be taken for granted or used to teach a lesson, as Disney attempted to in Meet the Robinsons. Hiccup shows his strength not with his brawn, or lack of it, but rather with how he uses his brain. We see this strength in his inventions and in how he tests them. In a similar way, Hiccup uses different and meaningful words to explain why he couldn’t kill Toothless the dragon, not the usual clichés associated with love or with inner morals.
Emotion- again, emotion drives the plot, not just action. In fact, the moviemakers want to assure the readers that one must only act if faced with a challenge, even if the challenge can be avoided or ignored. The biggest conflict between Hiccup and his father lies in how they handle such obstacles. At the same time, avoiding a necessary conflict is not a wise choice of action, even if it’s the necessary one; Hiccup learns that all too well when things explode in his face and he has to fix it. We get beautiful action scenes that accompany the emotion; the only shame is that the movie's sequels (Legend of the Boneknapper, Gift of the Night Fury) lack that similar emotional conflict.
Over the holidays I will be analyzing other animated movies that have won me over, and what aspects made them entertaining and deep. I may end up upsetting other people, but I don't care. These movies were fantastic, even if they don't appear so.