I truly believe so.
Moviecrafting is a multidimensional artform that requires many different artistic disciplines to coincide, build on top of one another, and create something even greater than the sum of its parts. Making a movie requires so many types of people… writers; a music composer; a director; a producer; audio technicians; storyboard artists; concept art artists; music performers; computer programmers; lights specialists; sound effects specialists; special effects specialists; texture artists; editors; voice actors; so so so much more. And for a good movie to be effective, it has to be able to tell a deep story with good writing (which is already an incredibly complicated thing requiring motifs, potential symbolism, intelligent dialogue, a well-structured plot arc, etc.); it has to have good visual artistry; it has to have good audial editing (including sound effects and music); it has to have good actors and voice actors; and if it misses one of those things, something falls flat.
I believe that especially the first How to Train Your Dragon movie is a demonstration of fine movie-crafting. I mean this in term of its narrative, its music, its visuals, its characters, and its impact.
The story is incredibly well-told, full of subtlety. Every single scene in the movie is necessary and brings in key revelations, concepts, and understandings to the picture. Audience members learn something new and important at each moment. No space is wasted. In fact, the story is very carefully woven so that there is a bunch of foreshadowing throughout, and good direction-pointing towards the finale. Nothing is out of place.
And in terms of the overall plot arc, the story is very beautifully balanced. There is the right amount of action at the beginning to spark interest, the right amount of low-key time, the right amount of rising action in all of the plot facets, and the perfect time to build up to a finale and resolve it. Everything is cohesive and there is nothing in the narrative that is not appropriately set up, executed, and tied off.
But the story isn’t just a tale of, “Hey this kid met a dragon and his relationship with his father got fixed.” The messages, the subplots, the characters’ interactions are all very deep and nuanced. We can very closely analyze so many aspects of this story’s narrative because the writers spent so much time making the story that detailed and meaningful.
True, the story might not be “unique” in some senses. It tells a story of a boy coming to age, a father and son working around issues, two enemies becoming best friends, and the unlikely protagonist becoming a hero. These are all well-recognized tropes. However, I do not believe that the presence of tropes is what makes a good or a bad story. It is how the tropes are used. Tropes when used well become a positive experience that enhances audience’s emotional reactions. And How to Train Your Dragon is a gem in this line: the tale of Hiccup, Stoick, Toothless, and how they interact with one another is gold. These interactions are not stale stamps thrown into a movie, but carefully woven interactions that delve into the depths of humanity.
And other elements of How to Train Your Dragon’s story are beyond the tropes. The simple idea of it being a story of Vikings training dragons is unique. Altogether, then, the narrative of How to Train Your Dragon is very structurally well-crafted and a huge success.
Visually, I think that there are some very amazing moments. The second movie especially takes my breath away. I am not an artist, but I think that the landscape, the character design, and so much more is very artfully crafted. I love the art books for How to Train Your Dragon because it highlights how nicely the artists worked on this story.
Musically, I adore John Powell’s scores, and this is coming from someone who disdains a good 95% of film soundtracks. Powell’s music is something I have raved about before on multiple occasions, and something I could keep raving about for eternity. The music is very complex from an orchestrational perspective, where there can be many layers of voices in different rhythms working together to make a cohesive sound. Every note is well-assigned to an instrument, and every instrument has a variety of moments and places to shine. There is more than one theme (so many movies these days are stupid one theme soundtracks), and every theme… is very carefully, critically, deeply interwoven into the narrative. There is good reason why every single theme pops up every time. And then the music is memorable, it’s emotionally enhancing, and… some of the pieces are even structurally sound from classical music perspectives (Like “See You Tomorrow” and “Dragon Racing”).
The characters are deep. They are human beings. Even the ones who are only secondary characters are all memorable personalities. There is depth to this world, and they are brought even more to life by good voice acting and great dialogue.
And all these elements - storywriting, music, visuals, audio editing, voice acting, and more - all intertwine with one another. They all are a web of things interrelated to build one movie, one thing, one very artfully crafted work of art.
I believe that “How to Train Your Dragon” is a very finely crafted story. So many movies are good but have a slightly lopsided plot, or a bad actor here, or some wonky editing there. But How to Train Your Dragon… the story gets all of it right. I think there are a few issues that make HTTYD 2 maybe not the straight-out best example of a film out there, but I think it’s still superb. And HTTYD, that first movie… yes, yes, that is movie-crafting at its very finest indeed. And I think that with the installment of the final movie HTTYD 3, we will see an overarching trilogy that is just as beautifully crafted from start-to-finish.