How To Train Your Dragon Live @ Bell Centre – August 19, 2012

Sometime I get all grumpy about technology and how all the advances have taken away from the human elements of film and theatre.  There is plenty of technology in this show, but instead of taking away it adds several layers.  I sat there throughout the entire over two hour show (including a 20 minute intermission) marveling at how far technology has come and how it can be used to create an immense show like this.  What else can be said about a show that features lasers, fire, smoke, trapeze work, and large dragons that move about very realistically?  It wasn’t only the kids (and there were many) who sat there with mouth agape and glowing eyes.

For those out there that saw the Dreamworks film then you know the story.  For those that didn’t, it is a magical tale of a young Viking boy named Hiccup.  Hiccup is the largely ignored and rather timid son of the big and fearless leader of the village, Stoick.   He dreams of being a brave Viking like his father.  The opportunities to prove his valour are aplenty as the village they live in called Berk faces wave after wave of dragon attack.  Even after he has shot down the most feared of the dragon species, a Night Fury, the other Vikings give Hiccup no respect as there is no proof.

Mumbling to himself about the unfairness of life while taking a walk in the woods Hiccup stumbles upon the Night Fury he shot down.  It is not dead, but is disabled and can no longer fly.  Believing this is his opportunity to prove his manhood, Hiccup tells himself that he just has to kill the helpless dragon and he will win everyone in the village’s respect.  Unable to do it, it seems like another failure for Hiccup.  They say though that when one door closes another opens.

Due to his not killing the grounded dragon and even constructing it a new tail to help it fly, Hiccup and the Dragon Fury he has called Toothless bond.  The bond goes so deep that Toothless even allows Hiccup to ride on his back as he flies.  This is all fine and dandy, but Hiccup has now created another problem.  How is he going to tell his father and the entire village that he has a dragon as a pet?

Using cinematic projections on a huge backdrop that opens and closes to allow the dragons to walk or fly out, laser lights, mist, fire, and animation as well as traditional theatrical devices like costumes, props, wigs, and shadow puppets, the story of How to Train Your Dragon comes to life before your eyes.  RZO Dragon Productions, Global Creatures and Dreamworks Animation have gotten together to create this magical world.  Some of the twenty-three dragons in the show cost over a million dollars and a couple have wingspans of forty-six feet.  Each dragon has two or three puppeteers and a “driver” needed to operate it.  Most impressive are when the dragons take to the air and fly.  At one point there were five dragons in the air at one point.

The dragons are for the most part very big and fairly scary, so I would hesitate recommending the show to the very young, but I attended with my 6-year-old niece and she wasn’t scared.  She was, however, very wrapped up in everything that went on from the flying of the dragons to the fighting to the break dancing of the Viking warriors.

The front of the floor features a large white screen that is equivalent to the size of nine movie screens.  Background and peripheral scenes are projected onto it.  Behind this screen is where all the dragons appear from.  Toothless fires laser beams from his mouth and there are fires that are shot up from the stage throughout.  The fires add to the realism as I could feel the heat emitted from them.

Despite all this technology at the heart of it this is a theatrical production that tells a father-son story.  We see the teenage boy trying to prove his manhood to his father and how the relationship between a boy and a dragon changes the viewpoint of an entire village.  The adventure portion of the story is wrapped up neatly inside the more typical coming-of-age tale.

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