Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!”  – Nausicaa

 

Yay it’s Miyazaki time! We’re going to get right into it with the second movie he directed, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. While technically NOT a studio Ghibli movie (the studio was founded after this movie came out), I still count it as such because it is 110% Miyazaki.

 So what’s Nausicaa about? I’ll do my best, but like many of Miyazaki’s movies, they tend to be pretty intricate and complicated with lots of things going on. 

 During the credits we’re introduced to the world that the movie takes place in, and some of the history that brought us there. In some places it looks like desert, with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. We see these strange robot-like giants coated in flame, and see their remains scattered as a man with a gas mask rides through the desert on a strange looking bird creature.

 The next thing we see is a habitat that is very different – a jungle. Although it’s not like any jungle anyone now has ever seen. It’s inhabited by huge mutant like bugs – flying bugs, crawing bugs, you name it. We meet our protagonist, Nausicaa, as she wanders through the jungle with a gas mask on. In her lone wanderings the watcher learns that this is the toxic jungle, and we get the feeling we’re in some type of post-apocolyptic world. Nausicaa wanders and happens to find the shed shell of a bug she calls an Ohm. For the record, this is what it looks like, cause I’m too lazy to explain it. This is one that is angry. He has red eyes. Normally they’re blue. And you can see the person at the bottom left for scale. they’re big.

Image

 She pulls off its eye cap and exclaims it’s going to be of great use for her village before sensing that danger is around. An insane Ohm, with red eyes charges in its rage after the man we saw during the credits. She manages to calm him and the Ohm goes back to the jungle, while she goes down to the man. Turns out she knows him. This is Lord Yupa, on his way to the very same place she is: the Valley of the Wind.

 The two travel home together, where we learn Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. We learn a bit more about the toxic jungle and the land before the “apocalypse”: the spores that are produced by the plants in the jungle are deadly to humans, and as such the humans have been forced to seek out small livable areas. A few of the settlements are at war with each other, but the Valley of the wind is one of those that just wishes to be left in peace. The toxic jungle arose from something called the seven days of fire, and it has been one thousand years since that. 

 One night, a war ship from a settlement called Tolmekia goes down in the valley of the wind. Nausicaa attempts to rescue a girl from the wreckage. She is a war hostage, Lastelle of Pejite, and before she dies she warns Nausicaa to destroy the cargo in the ship.  Turns out the Tolmekian ship carries the embryo of a Giant Warrior, the bioweapon robot we saw the remains of early that caused the seven days of fire. 

 She is not able to, however, because the remaining unhurt Tolmekians place the valley under their rule, led by Princess Kushana. She explains to Nausicaa and Lord Yuba that her idea is to use the giant warrior to burn down the toxic jungle. They then at some point kill Nausicaa’s father, which sends Nausicaa into a blind rage, upset at Kushana for not only killing him, but attempting something so stupid as burning the jungle when it has been written that that will only cause more harm. We also learn here of a prophecy of a warrior clad in blue surrounded by fields of gold that will unite nature and man once more. It is a prophecy widely believed in the valley, but not so much with the other settlements anymore.

 The princess Kushana, however, does not seem to care and announces she will leave for Pejite, their enemy and the original owners of the Giant Warrior embryo. She is going to take hostages from the Valley of the Wind to ensure that the rest of her troops will be respected… I think…. Either that or just because she can. It’s confusing and I honestly don’t remember.

 Anyway, Nausicaa does eventually go after Kushana and the hostages to rescue them, but not before Lord Yuba finds her in her basement greenhouse. Turns out she has been studying the plants from the toxic jungle, and it is here we learn that it is not the plants, nor the water that is toxic, but the soil that it grows in, forever tainted by man from long ago.

 Kushana and the hostages, along with Nausicaa attempting to rescue them, never reach Pejite, because they are shot down by a Pejite ship (this ship is also destroyed in the duel). They crash land in the toxic jungle, angering a few Ohm, which Nausicaa is able to take time and soothe.  She then leaves the Princess and her fellow valley folk to go and rescue the pilot of the Pejite ship, who turns out to be Asbel, the brother of the girl she rescued from the Tolmekian ship.

 The two of them wander through the jungle. Asbel wants to return to Pejite and Nausicaa wants everyone to just stop thinking of war. They get swallowed up by quicksand and we learn that under the toxic jungle is a whole other world that is not toxic. Turns out the plants above are actually purifying the water and the soil, sending it down below when it is cleansed.

 Eventually Nausicaa and Asbel return to Pejite to find it has been ravaged by insects. The survivors tell them it was a plan: the tolmekians were attacking and the insects destroyed them – they’re doing the same thing to the Valley of the Wind so that they can get their giant warrior back. Obviously this makes Nausicaa upset. She is taken captive as everyone boards an airship headed for the Valley of the Wind.

 On the airship, Asbel and the women of Pejite help Nausicaa escape so she can warn her people about the Ohm attack. She finds the pejites using an injured baby ohm as bait to anger the older ones, leading them to the Valley.  Trying to protect themselves, the Tolmekians in the Valley deploy tanks and even try to hatch the Giant Warrior to fight the Ohm, but none of it works and the Giant Warrior disintegrates.

 Nausicaa frees the baby Ohm and attempts to gain its trust as the stampede comes closer. They end up running the two over, but then grow calm as they almost realize what they’ve done. They use their golden tentacles to lift up Nausicaa’s body and heal it. Stained by the Ohm’s blue blood, she fulfills the prophecy of the warrior clad in blue in a sea of gold. The Tolmekians leave the valley, the Pejites remain behind to live there, and under the toxic jungle a tree begins to grow.

 So that’s Nausicaa. There is a LOT going on and honestly I didn’t touch on a lot of stuff that could even be considered important. If it seems all over the place and hard to understand, that’s honestly because it is. This was Miyazaki’s first foray into many themes he would become fluent in over the years. But like a Bicycle, I call Nausicaa the movie with the training wheels: You can tell what he wanted to do, but the execution was not perfect. At the same time, this movie needed to be made to show him what he had the ability to do.

 Don’t get me wrong. This is still a great movie. I just think I’ve had to watch it at least 3 or 4 times before I really got what was going on. The political stuff with the Tolmekians and the Pejites is a bit hard to understand, and honestly it’s hard to keep track sometimes of who is from what settlement just because both are so set on war and they have no idea why. It’s also a bit preachy in its messages. Like, really preachy. Sometimes the environmental stuff is thrown in our face, as is stuff like the fact that it’s so amazing that Nausicaa can calm the Ohm. 

 Let’s talk about the themes in this movie, because as we continue with Miyazaki movies, they’re going to be repeated over and over, and I’m going to talk about them over and over:

  1.  Strong Female characters: Miyazaki LOVES a strong female lead. In fact, she doesn’t even have to be the lead character. If there’s something this guy is good at, it’s writing really interesting female characters. In this case, it is the protagonist. Nausicaa isn’t afraid to fight or stand up for herself. She’s not afraid to get in there with the guys. She stands up against the giant Ohm and wanders in the Toxic Jungle when other braver men run away. She’s willing to do anything to protect not only her valley and her people, but the creatures that no one else is willing to even try and understand. She can be a bit too perfect however. She’s kinda the jesus figure. But that doesn’t matter too much. She’s still interesting enough. 
  2. Airships: Not as much in this one as in his others, Miyazaki has this obsession with flying. Gliders, ships, planes, you name it. They’re always big, unique, and play some type of role in the movies he directs and writes. In this movie, they’re warships. Nausicaa has this amazing glider that she rides on parallel to the ground (how strong are that girl’s abs??). The designs are awesome, and this is just a start to what we see in his later movies.
  3.  The Environment: This one is possibly the biggie for Miyazaki. This man is all about saving the environment. He loves a cautionary tale. He loves the environmental overtones. This is one of his two environmental epics. In some, as this one,this theme really does take itself seriously, and it is front and center in some part of the plot of the story. In this movie, it shares its importance with his theme about war. It’s what Nausicaa studies about the plants. It’s them finding out that it was man that caused this. The earth is renewing itself. That in a desperate, desolate world, there can be hope. The world is fixing itself, and it doesn’t need the humans go to and try to mess it up again. 

 Ok, after exploring a few of his themes in general, this movie obviously utilizes all three. The problem, as I mentioned before, is almost that this movie tried too hard. Miyazaki knew what he wanted to do, but the execution wasn’t quite right. He wanted to do this amazing environmental epic that was also anti-war and anti-violence. He wanted to do a movie about a girl who understood and could bring everyone together. In some ways, He did succeed. In other ways, he really didn’t.

 I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the hardest part of watching this movie is knowing what it could have been. If the plot hadn’t been as intricate. If they had calmed down a bit of the political stuff, or actually sat and explained it all. I mean, I needed wikipedia for help with the plot, because I wasn’t actually sure if I knew it correctly. 

 I’m going to be honest. Any Miyazaki fan will say the same things about Nausicaa, despite probably saying they liked it. A big part of that is because his other environmental epic exists, and it is just so much better (Princess Mononoke… we’ll get to it later). If that movie hadn’t been so good or hadn’t even existed, I think many people who are die hard Miyazaki fans would like this one better. That being said, people who don’t know Mononoke or watch this before they see that one tend to forgive many of its vices. However you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has seen both and prefers this one. 

 So obviously I’m upset about the plot and how he tried to do too much. What do I like? I love the idea. The idea of this world that was torn apart by war brought on by man; a world where the soil became so toxic that the plants that grew there were deadly. Until we learn that it’s the soil that’s toxic, and that it was brought on by man, it just seems like some random post-apocalyptic world. Almost like an “oh well, that’s what happened I guess.” But when we learn it was people that did it, something just clicks. Oh. I get what he’s going for. The idea that the toxic jungle is actually the world cleansing itself. The idea that the people don’t really get it and this girl is the only one who has eyes big enough to see it. That to me is fascinating. I just wish the rest of it wasn’t so complicated. I almost wish it focused more on her getting people to understand the jungle instead of trying to stop a war.

 The characters are… alright. I think I’m going hard on this movie because, again, I know what his later ones are like. Really, the characters are good. They don’t necessarily have depth (other than arguably Nausicaa), but they’re not boring. The voices for the dub fit pretty well for the most part. EXCEPT…. Geez, did they really have to use Shia LaBeouf for Asbel? I’m not a fan. Not that Asbel’s an interesting character anyway, but…. Ugh. 

 There’s nothing really good or bad about the characters. Honestly, the only one I ever really remember is Nausicaa. And the Ohm. The bugs are cool, and the Ohm are really unique. The humans are fine, but their just… there. No one else really stands out in my mind for being something other than a carbon copy of some type of archetypical fantasy character. Kushana is obsessed with war and doesn’t seem to have a good bone in her body (but she’s boring about it). Lord Yuba (Patrick Stewart) is all wise man mentor-y. Asbel is a stupid kid who wants revenge. Although I have to admit at least his mind is changed at the end, so I guess that’s good. I hate to say it but the most memorable characters are these two little girls that live in the Valley that we literally see in two scenes. Because they’re funny. Because they ask about the prophecy, and they love Nausicaa. Everyone else is just blah.

 I also do kinda hate the whole Prophecy thing. I mean I don’t mind it in some movies/books, but I don’t know – did anyone NOT think it was going to get fulfilled by Nausicaa by the end of the movie? Were they trying to throw us off by saying it was going to be a man? Because the first time I saw this movie and they explained the prophecy, I of course knew that it would be Nausicaa. I don’t like prophecies like that. Where the person doesn’t know it’s them but it really should be obvious. It’s almost like if we just knew the whole time she was the prophet, that would have been better. Like she had to go around the try to convince the Tolmekians and the Pejites that she was who she was. THAT would have been interesting. 

 Wow, this was so much more negative than I thought it was going to be when I started writing it. I’m not going to lie. I’m ragging on this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. It IS a good movie. I still love owning it and I still really enjoy watching it. There’s just a lot of issues that I have with it. I haven’t even gotten to the seriously 80s music. That just kinda makes me laugh…

 I would still tell people to watch this movie. It’s not the first Miyazaki movie I would tell people to watch, because it’s not his best. Not by far. But it DOES show us where he came from. It shows us the seeds for the themes he will live by. It shows us the types of stories and begins to show us what types of characters he can create. Thank God he gets better at characters!! If you’ve seen a few Ghibli movies but haven’t yet seen this one, I would give it a watch. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki, you’ll like it. But it’s not a good intro. You’ll have to wait a few more reviews for that…

 I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) a 3.2 out of 5. 

 Next up: Castle in the Sky

Advertisements

Miyazaki Madness – a commercial break

Alright, I’m taking a break because I feel like before I get into my next little set of reviews, I need to explain the man that is Hayao Miyazaki to anyone who may not know. A little background is important considering the fact that my next 10 reviews are all movies this man either wrote, co-wrote, directed, or any combination of the three. A lot of the time, if you mention one of his movies, people either go “oh of course! hey, have you also seen _____ (insert another of his movies here)”, or “right… isn’t that the guy whose movie won the animation oscar over Pixar that one year?” or “who??” So I am going to put it all to rest. Here’s a bit about the amazing man that is Hayao Miyazaki.

Long story short, he’s a Japanese Animator who is as famous in Japan as Walt Disney is here (arguably more so). His movies, animation, and characters are as popular as winnie the Pooh, the little mermaid, or any other pop culture thing here in the US. Pretty much, he’s an animation God. 

Miyazaki, born in 1941, got into the animation game in 1961, where he was an animator for a few random japanese tv shows. It wasn’t until 1979 that he was able to direct his first picture, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. From here he was able to gather more freedom, wrote his first original movie (the first one on my list to be posted tomorrow), and eventually formed his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli. 

The movies he creates are unique, dreamlike, sometimes scary, and almost always completely individual, yet somehow they almost always contain many similar elements. How this man has come up with this many stories is beyond me, especially when they are all so different and you sit there and go “how did he even think of something like this??” Everyone I know of who has watched at least one of his better known movies has been a fan. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked, and you have to go out and find and watch every one of his movies.

 I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Miyazaki has really only become more recognizable in the US for the past decade or so. I have known about him since I was 4 years old. I spent random chunks of my childhood in Japan due to my father having a sabbatical there every seven years to work for Hitachi and the Tokyo Institute. I remember first watching My Neighbor Totoro (we’ll get to that one in a few reviews) on VHS when we returned home, and it seemed as if that movie was always on for a period in our house. As I grew older, I honestly forgot a bit about him and about Totoro. When we were in Japan again in 1996, I was 12 and remember seeing posters for his next movie, Princess Mononoke, and remember being intrigued, but we left before I got a chance to see it, and in all honesty I wouldn’t have been able to find a theater that had it in subtitles anyway. This was before Disney bought all the rights to Studio Ghibli, so again Miyazaki dropped off the map. It wasn’t until Spirited Away that I remembered the amazing man and animation, because at this point the USA was finally ready for him. That year Spirited away won best animated picture at the oscars, and Disney bought the rights to Studio Ghibli movies and rereleased them all in the US. YAY!

 Now he isn’t the only animator/director at Studio Ghibli, but he is the one I know the best. His son, Goro Miyazaki, has also started writing and directing (with mixed results… Dad has to help him out for it to be any good), and the other more famous director at Ghibli is Isao Takahata. Now I don’t own any of his movies, but they’re on my list to watch. I’ve heard he’s very different than Miyazaki’s fantasy/crazy stuff, but he’s still good. I’ll get there eventually.

So we have 9 movies to watch. I’ve decided I’m going to start by ranking them how I think I’m going to with my reviews. This is before I’ve watched them, and we’ll see if i’m right or if my minds get changed (btw, this is as hard for me as ranking pixar movies…)

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

3. Castle in the Sky (1986)

4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

5. Spirited Away (2001)

6. Porco Rosso (1992)

7. Ponyo (2008)

8. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – technically not Studio Ghibli)

9. The Secret World of Arriety (2010)

10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Gah that was hard!! seriously. It’s like rating the Pixar movies. They’re all so good figuring out the order in the middle is like torture. So yes. That’s a bit about Miyazaki. We will be going Chronologically, so my first review will be Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

“Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?”  – Snotlout

When this movie came out, I really had no desire to see it. Considering I literally jumped almost 10 years with Dreamworks, it is safe to say that for me, the animation company was losing it. A lot of people loved the Madagascars and Kung Fu Pandas, and I saw them, but to be honest they never really did anything for me. I don’t own them, although I have been meaning to give them another watch. I had kinda given up hope that Dreamworks would ever produce anything that I actually liked anymore.

So when How to Train Your Dragon came out, I didn’t see it in theaters. Then people started talking about it. I had at least three different friends say to me “Kate, you NEED to see this movie. You’d love it.” when lots of different people tell me that, that pretty much means that I have to give in and see the movie. Instead of just watching it, I threw it on my christmas list and let my relatives give it to me. I watched it and…. LOVED it. Absolutely. Like The Prince of Egypt, this movie is on my list of favorite movies. It’s one of the movies I watch when I’m sick, or really need a pick-me-up, and has been since it came out (that’s odd, bc typically i rotate to newer movies…) It’s very different, and it’s not perfect, but the things I love about it, I LOVE.

This movie is loosely (and from what I’ve read, VERY loosely) based on a children’s book by the same name by british author Cressida Cowell published in 2003. The book is the first in a very intense looking group of children’s books (she’s been publishing at least 1 a year for the last ten years). I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit interested in reading these.

Anyway, the movie is based around our protagonist, Hiccup, who is a viking who lives on the island of Berk. As is explained in the first few minutes of the movie, the vikings here have dragons as their pests, and have to do their best to keep them from eating their sheep and destroying their town. This involves fighting them. We’re introduced to a lot of the species of dragons, as well as Hiccup’s ambition to catch one. Because he’s not exactly your typical viking. He’s much less robust, and well… he’s a nerd. He wants to catch a dragon to get noticed and become a hero. He fires a machine at a dragon they call the Night Fury (which no one has ever seen), and it goes down in the woods. Of course no one believes him.

His father, Stoick, is the leader of the vikings and tells Hiccup he is enrolled in dragon fighting school while he and the other vikings head off to try and find the dragons’ “nest,” a place that they can’t find the way too. Meanwhile, Hiccup goes after the dragon he shot down, and finds it, still tied up. He attempts to kill it to be a real viking, but can’t due to the look on its face, so instead he sets it free. It growls and shrieks at him before disappearing.

From here we kinda go back and forth between Hiccup and his interactions with the other kids and dragons in Dragon training, and Hiccup discovering that the Night Fury he caught is stuck in a gorge, the apparatus he used to shoot him down having cut part of his tail so that he can’t balance and turn in the air. Curious, Hiccup soon learns through his interactions with “Toothless” that dragons are not what the vikings had made them out to be: instead of being vicious, they instead are misunderstood and are more like big dogs or cats. Eventually one of the other students, Astrid, finds out what he’s doing, and soon he shows her what’s been going on. While they are flying on toothless, he gets put into almost a trance, and they fly, along with other dragons, to the nest, where the duo figure out that there is an even bigger dragon inside that is using the smaller ones almost as slaves to bring it food (or, like the analogy they use in the book, a bee hive and its queen.)

Stoick and the other vikings return just in time to see Hiccup be the top of his class in dragon training, meaning he gets to kill the dragon he’s fighting. The entire town watching, he takes this as his time to try and show the others that the dragons aren’t as scary and menacing as they all thought they were, when the dragon gets distracted and tries to kill him. Toothless comes in to rescue him, and he gets caught. Hiccup lets it slip that only a dragon knows the way to the nest, and Stoick ends up using Toothless as the way to get to the nest and destroy the dragons once and for all.

The kids left on the island after the others leave with toothless, Hiccup decides not to give up after a talk with Astrid, and them and the other kids end up befriending the dragons in the training ring and riding them to the dragon island, where they fight the big dragon.

I’m not giving away the end.

So that’s How to Train Your Dragon. The story is very unique, and although I’m really not a fan of the whole “dragons being like a beehive” part, the rest of the movie completely makes up for its strange… biology?, in my mind.

This universe is awesome. I really can’t wait for the second movie and to delve more into the world of these vikings and learn more about these dragons and possibly other creatures that live there. The designs of the dragons are unique and very cool; each species of dragon has their own physiological differences, but all dragons share certain aspects (e.g. Noise can make them dizzy). The abilities of some of the species of dragons are very cool. I mean, there’s one dragon that has two heads. One breathes gas while the other sparks it to make fire. That’s incredibly creative and brings about more possibilities other than just the “dragon that breathes fire.” There’s also a book that  the dragon teacher Gobber gives to Hiccup about all the dragons the vikings know about. He flips through it, and we see amazing illustrations along with words of what these species can do. I really want to see more of these dragons, because they just sound so cool. Razor sharp wings? Spitting acid? Yes please!!

But by far the best best best part of this movie for me is Toothless and Hiccup. The relationship that these two develop is seriously one of the best friendships and partnerships in movie-dom. What’s so great about them is that you believe their friendship. You see it from the beginning, see it form, and realize that these two would do anything for each other at the end, and they really do. No matter what happens, they’re in it together.

I’m really going to talk at length about these characters and this relationship and why I feel it’s so special and really at the heart of this movie. To do that, though, I need to first talk about the characters. So we’ll start with Hiccup. First off, he’s voice by Jay Baruchel, which honestly took some getting used to. Now, I can’t picture any other voice. Second, If you’ve never seen the movie, let’s give you an idea of what hiccup looks like versus his father, Stoick…

Image       vsImage

Yeah. He’s a geek. It’s not that he’s just lanky. In all honesty, 3/5 of the other kids in dragon training are lanky too. It just adds to his nature. He’s not strong like the other kids. He can’t be trusted to fight dragons. He can’t walk around town during a dragon ambush without being a klutz and getting half the town in trouble. It’s even a running joke that his father or Gobber points to him and goes “You just need to be less of that,” and Hiccup goes, “You just gestured to all of me…” He’s not a well liked or well respected kid. If anything, he’s the black sheep. That’s led him to become sarcastic and self-deprecating. But he still has drive to please his father. That’s why he’s so keen to kill a dragon, bring its head back, and prove to everyone that he can be a viking.

But all that changes when he actually sees the dragon he caught: a dragon that no one has ever seen. In that book I talked about before, there’s no picture, everything is unknown, and the only thing it says is to “run like hell.” This is his moment. He can kill a dragon no one’s ever seen. But something stops him. He tells Astrid later that it was because he looked into his eyes, and he looked just as scared as he was. It’s not that he couldn’t kill the dragon, but he wouldn’t. That’s not who he is. He’s not a barbarian like a lot of the other vikings in town. He’s willing to see past the exterior and make a connection with a “terrifying” monster and see that he is just like him. He discovers through Toothless that it’s ok not being like everyone else. That if you stick to being yourself, you can rise to amazing heights (in this case literally.)

Ok, so that’s Hiccup. Let’s talk about Toothless, because for a dragon that can’t talk, oh goodness is he amazing and hilarious. First off, here’s what the unknown, unspeakable night fury looks like:

Image

He’s so cute!! It’s like if they took Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, turned him black, gave him wings, then mixed him with a dog, a cat, and a Totoro. This thing totally has Miyazaki written all over it. (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, we’ll get to him in our next 12 reviews or so…). I LOVE the design of Toothless. This should show you how much: at the time this movie started getting advertised, I was in the process of designing characters for what is now my 4th unpublished book. In this book, I have a dragon. I literally started designing him, then saw this movie poster and went “crap, now I can’t do that, he looks almost like that dragon! Everyone will think I was ripping off the movie!” so yes, I love the design.

The other thing, other than looks, that makes Toothless even more memorable is the way they have this guy act. He’s plucky and stubborn, and shares a lot of traits with Hiccup. Without talking, Toothless is very expressive. The faces he gives convey his mood, or the way he gets up and walks away, or acts like an overly excited dog, or a stalking cat. The way he grunts his disapproval or uses his ears and frills to slap hiccup when he’s doing something wrong. You don’t need him to talk, and I’m glad they didn’t, because that would distract from what’s so great about him.

Now on to the two of them. I could literally watch the scene where Toothless and Hiccup first connect a million times in a row and not get sick of it. Hiccup already realizes that Toothless didn’t kill him when he had the chance, so he’s starting to question if what the vikings teach about dragons really is true. Since he knows the dragon is hurt, he assumes that he can’t get food, and sets about trying to bring him some fish. After a few tense moments where Hiccup realizes that the dragon’s aggression is brought on by fear of his knife, both seem to relax to the point that Toothless goes and seems to treat Hiccup as a equal, even sharing some of his regurgitated fish.

What I love about this is that Hiccup didn’t have to eat that nasty fish. He could have thrown it away. But he does anyway, because he realizes that this dragon may be something to be respected. This action seems to start our friendship, and the rest of the scene is Hiccup being curious and trying to get closer to the dragon, and Toothless not having any of it. So instead, Hiccup sits by the bank and starts doodling in the sand with a stick, drawing a picture of the dragon. He gets curious and comes over, almost realizes that this kid is drawing him, and goes and uproots a whole tree and starts drawing what, in his mind, Hiccup looks like. Of course it’s just scribbles, but as Hiccup tries to get out, he steps on a line and toothless growls. Again, another respect thing. Hiccup understands and steps in between the lines until he feels the dragon’s breath on his neck. He reaches out his hand, and is able to pet him. A friendship has been made.

That scene is amazing. The music is awesome, not just during this scene but the other seriously memorable ones as well. During the rest of the movie, their friendship only strengthens due to the fact that Toothless actually NEEDS Hiccup, otherwise he can’t fly. Hiccup fashions a new tail on him, and it eventually becomes a saddle and the two must work in unison to be able to fly.  Once Toothless accepts this, they’re unstoppable.

The flying scenes are amazing, beautiful, and surreal. To see this in 3D must have been cool, although seeing it on your home TV is just as awesome. The animation of the characters and scenes are very dreamworks – that means they’re good. I’ve already commented on the design of the dragons being really unique.

The rest of the characters are very memorable, and they add to the fun of the movie while Hiccup and Toothless really carry it. Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is typical viking but also dealing with trying to understand his son. Their relationship is believable, but Stoick is missing for part of the movie, and I know it had to be done, but I almost hope we see more of their relationship in the 2nd movie. Hiccup is the apprentice to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Stoick’s friend who runs the blacksmith shop, has a missing tooth he’s constantly repounding in and an interchangeable hand. He’s daft and hilarious and in charge of dragon training. He’s the best teacher ever (sarcasm… kinda). It’s hilarious.

The kids in dragon training are really the only other characters we have. They’re all voiced by SNL or other comedic voices, and believe it or not it didn’t detract. Sometimes having voices like that really can. We have Snotlout (Jonah Hill: this character in the book was actually Hiccup’s cousin…), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka Mclovin’) , Ruffnut and Tuffnut the Twins (voiced by T.J. Miller & Kristen Wiig respectively), and of course our love interest, Astrid (America Ferrera). They’re funny as a whole. I think Jonah Hill does the best job, but the others are memorable and I have to say that they’ve grown on me the more I’ve watched this movie. I think that’s because I’m picking up on lines that I didn’t hear before. They say some pretty clever stuff. They are, at times, though, a bit annoying, and the first time i watched it, they drove me crazy.

Astrid is interesting, because she acts as the love interest, and it’s well known that Hiccup adores her, but it’s not pushed. The relationship between Hiccup and toothless is front and center like it should be. Astrid is all tough and critical and wants to be the victor during dragon training, and actually spends half the movie trying to figure out what Hiccup’s up to and being upset at him when he does better than her. After meeting toothless, she changes and understands like he does. At this point she almost acts like the voice of reason and the sounding board for Hiccup as he watches his best friend being carted away.

I’m not going to say much more about this movie. I’ve explained the really amazing parts, and honestly the only thing I don’t like (although it’s a big thing) is the whole “dragons being like a beehive” thing. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s just… weird. I can’t get over it. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just think that the first half of the movie is much stronger than the second.

I will say though that the way they ended it is amazing. It took guts, and it had me crying. Toothless is always there for Hiccup. Can’t wait for the 2nd one.

I would definitely recommend this movie. If you have really little ones just know that this movie does have a few scary moments, but there’s no inappropriate humor that I can really remember. If you haven’t watched it or if Dreamworks kinda petered out for you, give this one a go. It was a pleasant surprise and I really hope they don’t ruin the sequel.

I give How to Train Your Dragon a 4.75 out of 5. A personal favorite but definitely not perfect.

Up Next: Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (YAY MIYAZAKI TIME!!!!!)

** Wait wait wait. I’m on imdb and David Tennant is a voice in this?? What character is Spitelout??? Snotlout’s father? Gotta listen for this next time!

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

“I’m never going to ride you, am I? And no one ever should.”  – Little Creek

 Do you know how refreshing it is to watch a movie that doesn’t rely on talking animals? I mean, I LOVE talking animals. I love Disney and it’s talking animals, and its animals that are anthropomorphized or animals that don’t talk but act like humans (yes I realize that’s pretty much the same thing). But man – I forget how great it is when they don’t talk and they actually act like the animal is supposed to act. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, is a good example of this type of movie done right. Our titular mustang, Spirit, does talk, but it’s more thought and narration: he’s telling us the story of what happened as it happens as its all in his head. He never actually opens his lips and talks to a human, or even to other horses in a way we could understand.

 Ok, I’m going to admit this to everyone: to this day, I still bawl like a baby during this movie; especially at the beginning. It’s not because it’s overly happy or overly sad, but it’s more personal for me. As discussed in my previous review (chicken run), I moved with my family from Arizona to New Jersey in the summer of 2000. When this movie came out, I never saw it in theaters, but a year or two later I saw it, and for whatever reason, the song “I will always return” really struck a chord with me. Because It’s how I feel about Arizona. To me, that will always be home. So in the beginning when Spirit is running through the mountains of his home, and at the end when he returns, I get it. I get his love of this place he calls home. Because I have it to, and I’m guessing a lot of people do; that place that is yours no matter what. That place that will never change, and the place you always belong to. 

 With all the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s dive right into what Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is about. Long story short, it’s about the adventures of a stallion named Spirit in the Old west in the 1800s. I don’t know if they ever say a time period, but it’s whenever they were hooking up the railroad across the Rocky mountains. Anyway, he gets captured, is attempted to be broken, escapes with a Lakota indian, who then captures him again and in his ways tries to ride him. With this boy he meets another horse, who acts as our love interest. When the white men come to destroy the village he gets caught again and sent to pull a locomotive over a mountain, escapes, and eventually is reunited with the Lakota boy for one more round with the scary white men before returning to the wild with his love interest and living free. 

 I will be honest: upon repeated viewings, this movie isn’t all that amazing. It’s not breaking any barriers or showing people a new way to do things. What it is, however, is entertaining. I have many issues with this movie, but I want to talk about what I like about this movie first before I start complaining about a movie that could have been extremely awesome.

 My favorite thing about this movie is the relationship that ends up forming between the Lakota boy (Little Creek) and Spirit. It teaches respect of the horse, whereas the white man general didn’t have any and believed the horse needed to be beaten into submission (this still goes on btw – sad). While the white man used abuse and force to attempt to break spirit, Little Creek spends who knows how long just attempting to earn his trust, walk up near him, and ride him. In the end he even admits that he never will ride him, and that no one ever should. He then lets him go, but comes after him when Spirit gets captured again. That’s friendship. Only when they are in trouble and there’s a fire raging that Spirit lets him on his back, showing that trust has been established. I love this. It shows that respect and patience are what grant you amazing friendships. You can’t be forceful. Something I think we all should remember.

 The animation is this movie is also pretty amazing. The scenery is gorgeous, and I’m super happy that it was done in 2d hand drawn animation (this was around the time cgi was starting to majorly overtake animation styles). I am a traditional animation nerd. I think it’s so much prettier. But that’s another story for another day. Anyway… not only is the scenery great, but the animation of the characters faces (especially Spirit’s) is amazing. This horse is so expressive. If we didn’t have words, we’d still know what he was thinking. Yet they still managed to make him look like a real horse. He’s not overly cartoony, which is another thing I like. I also like that (for the most part – see below) they got the behavior of a horse down. I’ve been around horses my whole life, and a lot of stuff was really great. The way they whinny and throw their heads. The way they greet each other, or the way their ears move. Even some of the subtle stuff that only horse people would pick up on is correct. It’s done very well. 

 Alright. No onto things I didn’t like about the movie:

  • HORSES DO NOT DRINK WATER BY LICKING!!! This bugs me every single time I watch it and it’s just laziness on the animators’ part. Really, none of them even thought to watch how a horse drinks? Especially after they got everything else right about horse behavior. LAZY LAZY LAZY
  • This is very much a one character movie (maybe 2 if you count Little Creek). I’m not saying I want a ton of characters, but it would have been nice to develop some of the characters more, especially the general. I want depth to my villains!! I also want depth to my love interests. Seriously. Rain seems like the stupidest horse ever because we don’t know anything about her. The only thing of importance she does is teach Spirit that humans can be trusted and prances around with Little Creek. I also think her animation style is more cartoony, and that always really bugged me. Something is just off with her.
  • Sometimes Spirit just does not stop talking to himself. I feel like some of the scenes could have been done with much less speaking. Or less reactive “talking” on his part. Almost that they would have been more beautiful if they had been done without talking.
  • I HATE how this movie says “you be the judge of if we won or not” in the beginning. Because if anyone knows anything about american history, then no, they didn’t win. If you think of it like that, it becomes a very depressing movie. Because eventually the Lakota were killed or westernized, the railroad went right through Spirit’s homeland, and his children were probably rounded up and sold.

 I’m trying not to rant too much, that’s why I put those in bullets. I tend to blab if I do that, and while some thing might be entertaining, I don’t want to just talk with no point (kinda like I’m doing now). I do, however, want to discuss one thing:

 You can blame college biology for this, but I’ve decided that a big part of me hates when movies talk about native animals and horses are included. Because in all honesty, they are NOT NATIVE. All the mustangs we have in the US were escaped horses that Europeans brought over. They are still domestic. In fact, they do much more damage to the wilderness than good. They trample the native plants, eat them, and disrupt the food chain by doing so. 

 Now I know this is a kids movie. And I know kids are supposed to like wild horses and everything and want to see them run free. I know i’m looking way too deep into it, and I shouldn’t, but part of me still sits there and roots for the general to break the stallion. I’m a horrible person. It’s just been drilled into my head that invasive species (species that are non-native that cause problems and/or disrupt the existing ecology) are bad. This is one bad thing that has come to pass with me watching this movie now vs. When I was younger (damn you college!).

 To sum up, if you have kids, I would give this movie a watch. If you like horses, or even history, then give this movie a watch. There’s a lot of really great things in it, and a lot of awkward/not so great things. Most of them I feel are nit picky and pertain to me, and I know a lot of people who thoroughly enjoyed this movie. If they took the time to fix a few of the major issues (HORSES DON”T LICK!!!) I would have less of an inclination to sigh when I watched it. But for what it is, it’s great. Watch it and make up your mind. You won’t have to deal with talking horses and peppy songs. Instead, you deal with the inner monologue of Matt Damon, beautiful scenery, and one wild romp.

 I give Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) a 3 out of 5. 

 Next up: How to Train Your Dragon