How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is an excellent film, of that there can be no doubt. The vikings vs. dragons set up would have been excellent in itself, but the original books (of the same name by Cressida Cowell) present a world filled with a Monster Manual style variety of dragons to pick and choose from, creating a far richer environment. The story is filled with deep characters with fully realized personalities, and the dragons themselves are amazingly expressive. All told it’s little wonder that the film has earned two sequels and some pretty lucrative merchandising deals.
It’s far from the first film about dragons, although it’s certainly the most successful film series about them, but I stumbled across a particularly enjoyable little animated title that was released a couple of years before HTTYD came out.
France has one hell of an untapped market in animated films that very often slides past unnoticed under the media dominance of the english speaking media, and even when compared to the ever rising leviathan of anime’s popularity, and Dragon Hunters (2008) is a prime example. It tells the tale of two rather useless mercenaries who find themselves on a quest to defeat the ultimate monster, the apocalyptic shadow of the World Gobbler. Stupid as that sounds, remember some of the HTTYD breeds, like Hideous Zippleback… or the Bewilderbeast, I mean really!
Dragon Hunters asks you to accept a great deal without a scrap of exposition. The world is a web of floating earth motes, some big enough for entire villages, some barely big enough for a few sheep, and sheep their are by the plenty. The big burly warrior Lian-Chu (voiced in the english dub by Forest Whitaker) has greatest cause to slay the World Gobbler, but dreams of nothing more than setting up a little farm, where Gwizdo (Rob Paulson who you may know better as Wakko from the Animaniacs) is solely focussed on making a quick sack of gold and a hasty getaway.
The draconic selection rather stretches the definition of “dragon” to include a weird fire breathing slug with adhesive vomit, lightning raptors, and a deeply freakish swarm of bats that can form a single titanic red dragon. It’s every bit as weird and wonderful as the Dreamworks film but by necessity on a smaller scale.
Dragon Hunters has all of the traditional fair, friendship, love, betrayal, a madman with talking hands that threaten to kill him if he tells IF HE EVER EVER TELLS! and a doomsday prophesy filled with ominous portents.The film really begins to set a tone when we see the second sign: The smouldering knight! A groaning suit of armour forces his way into the throne chamber trailing smoke from every joint before collapsing into a dusty pile. And make no mistake that this is a dark film!
At the end of the world, entire buildings simply float in the questionable gravity, smashing apart in the sourceless lightning, and turning into debris that add to the enshrouding grey. All of this sets a bleak tone for the build up to a very dark climax.
The finale is a little excessively “Happily Ever After”, and unsurprisingly the film suffers for a low budget, and honestly some fairly hit and miss writing, but it is, if nothing else well worth a watch! Maybe as a double feature with How to Train Your Dragon (triple if you want to watch the sequel).
A Note on Dragons
We love dragons. You may have noticed, but I have some very strong opinions on what constitutes a dragon. At their most rudimentary a dragon requires six limbs, standard fore and hind limbs with a pair of wings, therefore eliminating Skyrims wyverns from the Top 10, but in both of these films the dragons are fairly bestial. There are differing camps here, but I believe that dragons should be intelligent enough to be capable of language. I don’t know where this predilection came from originally, but my discovery of Dungeons and Dragons only deepened my opinion.
I’m curious as to where everyone else falls on the subject. What defines a dragon to you? And are they ancient and wise, or monstrous beasts? Join the conversation! And try and lay hands on a copy of Dragon Hunters if you can.