So Dreamworks Animation is kind of hit and miss. I loved The Prince of Egypt and the Road to El Dorado which were both movies that kind of glommed onto the Disney style. Antz, although it ended up being similar to a Pixar movie, was actually really good. Shrek was good and Shrek 2 was actually better. I really liked Kung Fu Panda as I felt like it had a lot of heart and more substance than flash. I also liked and reviewed Mr. Peabody and Sherman and the Penguins of Madagascar right here on the blog. There are a lot of clunkers between those. The Madagascar franchise and the latter half of the Shrek franchise especially, are not good. So it is with a 50/50 track record that I approach a movie about Vikings and dragons and hope it’s as good as people say.
Let’s approach this one first from a technical standpoint because I used to want to be an animator and I still study it. Even six years ago the animation is a little stiff but still very fluid. The cool stuff is really subtle, like hair moving with people’s movements or excellent lighting. The character models are really neat looking. So neat that they kind of re-used the same style for The Croods. I haven’t studied Vikings so I don’t know how accurate it is but that doesn’t matter. They created a look and feel to their world that is consistent and interesting looking. Even the drawings and writing we see is really neat to look at. The “camera work” is really fun and exciting especially during action sequences. A lot of it looks like a live action adventure movie. Throw in a good score and excellent foley and creature sounds and we have a movie.
The movie starts with what looks like it will be a literal hero’s call to journey. We see a warrior culture fighting against the only threat they have ever faced. There are too many tropes going on to name. We have the misunderstood outcast, the father who loves but doesn’t understand his son, the intellectual in a world of brawn and so on and so on. Each of these is taken in a slightly different direction though and most of them are only noticeable in the early parts. Instead, we get a movie that extols the virtues of being smart and kind and that sometimes it’s braver not to fight. These are great messages to teach these days as some groups try to prove that this is a weakness. It also throws in the easy message of the power of friendship and forgiveness.
The star of the movie is voiced by Jay Baruchel whose most famous role is arguably the one where he goes on a rant about HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray. His voice isn’t really suited for his character model and doesn’t really fit the body of a preteen but it grows on you eventually. They really should have picked somebody a little more boyish but I get that they were going for nerdy but snarky. America Ferrara is especially good as the tough and driven Astrid and I loved every bit of her strength mixed with very reasonable insecurities. Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson play really fun Vikings who manage to be kind of touching too. Everybody else is pretty good too.
Overall, the movie is a good family movie that has a lot of heart and a good message. I laughed in all the right places and I felt in all the right places. It’s a little paint by numbers but it’s definitely worth your time if you’re interested.