Sunday, 19 October 2014

Film Ramble: Dragon Hunters

Sometimes it's hard to keep from being defensive in these Film Ramble articles.  For anyone who knows me will know that sometimes I get terribly enthusiastic about movies that are not, by any objective definition, entirely what most other people would call good.
Because try finding a high def version in English.

So here, to give you some idea of whether you might conceivably agree with anything I say about Dragon Hunters - a film that, my god, I adore in a way I know can't be entirely reasonable - are some opening assumptions:

I like animation.  When it's great, it's fair to say that I love animation.  I like Western animation and anime about equally.  I'm happy to watch kids' films so long as they're not awful, joyless, carelessly-made kids' films.  I'm okay with the French sense of humour, unique as it can sometimes be.  And I'd sooner have content than style, but if there's enough style I can get awfully distracted by it.

And Dragon Hunters, by the standards of what it is - a just-about-feature length, CG-animated, French Fantasy movie aimed quite squarely at kids - has no shortage of style.  It is, in fact, all sorts of stylish.  It's also, in places, quite brazenly and stupefyingly beautiful.  Judged solely on its most beautiful scenes and images, I would say that it's the single most beautiful CG-animated film I've seen.  And I've seen most of them.  Is it more beautiful that the opening third of WALL-E?  More beautiful than that sequence in Monsters University where they enter the real world?  More beautiful than the frequently-beautiful Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs?  Yes, yes and yes, at least at its very best.  And if you're at all interested in animation, let alone computer-generated animation, that alone should be reason enough to take a look.

Now imagine that everything is moving.
 Unfortunately it's impossible to convey any of this in a still image, because, again at its best, Dragon Hunters doesn't only present astonishing scenes but moves its characters through them in genuinely imaginative, interesting ways.  Then again, it's a film that does almost everything in interesting ways, even when what it's doing isn't inherently all that interesting.   Its characters are archetypal on the surface, full of charming wrinkles in practice, and the character designs are gloriously eccentric, perhaps all the more so for having apparently each wandered in from different movies.  Its plot is straightforward - dragon about to end the world, mismatched cast thrust together to save the day - and yet its details are everything but.  Because, that world that needs saving?  That would be a vast archipelago of islands and planetoids each with their own gravity, and man-made structures drawn from every place and era of human culture, all in a constant but steady process of disintegration.  Its action sequences are ingenuous and joyfully silly and, like the animation in general, preoccupied by doing interesting things with space and movement and in playing with the medium itself, in a way that so few films are.

Oh, right, and there's this kind of blue rabbity dog creature that pees fire.  For absolutely no damn discernible reason.  And it has a character called Sir Lensflare. Whose introduction just happened to be the point where I went from puzzled affection to outright adoration.

Now, even as someone who clearly adores it, I'd admit without a thought that Dragon Hunters is a long way from perfect - and even perhaps falls shy of being the most perfect version of the film it might have been.  It flirts so heavily with elements of cliche that there are some who are bound to simply see it as cliched, and it only works even slightly if you surrender in the first few minutes to its internal logic - or rather, lack thereof.  There's something faintly but insistently wrong-feeling about the translation from French to English, which leaves characters speaking too quickly and far too much, and that French humour, which bounces fairly evenly between childishness and being downright weird, doesn't always translate well. Of its three central characters, two have the potential to be hugely irritating, and at points are clearly meant to be hugely irritating, and that's an awfully big gamble for any movie, let alone an animated kids' film.

Still.  It is beautiful - often astonishingly so - and it's almost bloated with interesting design choices, and silly and good-hearted and frequently, gloriously strange.  And if you're in tune with, let's say three out of five of the assumptions I set out above, I think there's a fair chance that you'll have fun with Dragon Hunters

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