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Face-Off: Shrek vs. How to Train Your Dragon

03.21.2013by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face-Off, we put together a match between two iconic comedic actors in Jim Carrey and Steve Carell. Carrey ultimately took the final verdict with our readers agreeing. That said, Carell was not without his supporters...this was to be expected.

This week, one of our new releases is Dreamworks' The Croods. I'm glad that our own JimmyO gave that film a positive review, as the movie appeals to me and other members of my family, should be fun times. That said, we are dedicating this weeks column to two of Dreamworks Animation's best thought of films in the original Shrek and 2010's surprise How to Train Your Dragon. Something I've noticed, and I'll cover this in the article is one film brought the comedy with a little bit of heart sprinkled in there, with the other bringing the heart to the forefront with some comedy in there for good measure. Two of Dreamworks' best films, with different enough feels to warrant a discussion. So where do you stand? Let's dissect.
Story
Based on the book of the same name by William Steig, after ogre Shrek's hermit existence is threatened by a slew of fairytale creatures being forced onto his land, Shrek goes to see the short and evil Lord Farquaad to correct this error. When he is sent on a mission in exchange for his request being granted, his world is turned upside down in the form of his red headed princess target. Pulling from the classic cliche save the damsel in distress fairytale plot served this comedy well, what Scream did for the world of horror...Shrek did for films of its ilk.
Based on the first in a series of books by Cressida Cowell, young Viking Hiccup feels out of place in his society. When he finally captures a dragon, a rare one at that, he has a chance to slay said dragon and gain acceptance among his kin/peers...but instead finds himself bonding with the creature. In doing so, turns his own and everyone else's lives around him topsy turvy. Where I can see perhaps some adults identifying with Shrek's disdain for society, some youngsters I see knowing how Hiccup felt in not fitting in where he naturally should, and finding a saving grace that gives him something to live and move forward for. Good stuff.
Characters
Shrek, the cranky ogre who yearns to be accepted and loved yet acts like he doesn't. Donkey, the obnoxious sidekick whose saving grace ends up being that he's the most loyal friend Shrek could have hoped for. Fionna, the supposed damsel in distress who we find out can hold her own both physically and mentally. Lord Farquaad, short but determined to carry out his nefarious deeds. Sprinkle in this and other fairy tale creatures with their own twists and you have great characters to root for. Kudos to the talented voice cast that brought their A game to the proceedings.
Hiccup, the non-typical young Viking with the untapped potential. Stoik , Hiccup's stern father who still obviously loves his son regardless. Gobber, Stoik's right hand man who one would love to have as a lovable old uncle. Astrid, the assertive and strong young female Viking who eventually finds her inner softie. The rest of Hiccups hilarious peers who initially judge and come to accept Viking's approach to life. And finally Toothless, a strong creature who becomes the ideal companion who will lay down his life for you. Yep, here's a film that wouldn't have worked if the characters weren't as great and as well written as they were, the same could be said for Shrek.
Laughs
A lot of the laughs in this film come from Shrek's interactions with Donkey, such contrasting personalities at least in the beginning and once Shrek lightens up we see they have the same sense of humor. The other half comes from the movies self aware nature in its treatment of the classic fairytale characters and motifs sprinkled throughout, I really dug the stuff with the magic mirror and I think the Gingerbread Man's debut is underrated comedic gold. All in all, while some jokes missed the mark for me, most of it was wonderful family friendly hilarity and I loved the jokes at the expense of certain characters.
Some of the jokes in Shrek had me laughing out loud, what I noticed on my last viewing was that most of the comedic moments in How to Train Your Dragon resulted in light chuckles more often than not. I chuckled at the cuteness of some select moments that Toothless had, the rest of the laughs had to go to Hiccups new found friends who were a charming little group of Vikings. It's hard to compare this to Shrek in this category, because while Shrek pretty much kept the comedy coming throughout...at a certain point in HTTYD sh*t got real and kept that dramatic climax going for a good while.
Heart
In the end while Shrek didn't find acceptance from the whole of society, he found love and he found a new BFF and a group of other friends who accept him for who he truly is. Another great message for everyone, which was seen through the eyes of Fionna came from her difficulty to accept her own ogre nature and by extension Shrek's...but she eventually comes to the conclusion that love is blind, and who you are lies on the inside (such a cliche thing to say but what ya gonna do).
How to Train Your Dragon had heart for days. Those of you that know about adopting a dog from the pup years, who ends up being a member of the family akin to having another child? Hiccup's relationship with Toothless reminded me of that bond and it tugged on the heartstrings. More heart came from Hiccup's evolution and coming into his own via his new approach to how his society could co-exist and live in peace with dragons, I just loved Hiccup gaining the acceptance he'd so been longing for. In my own ways, I could relate to his struggle.
Overall
The first Shrek film was executed quite perfectly, it had the perfect balance of well...everything. Its self aware nature made for some great moments, but all that wouldn't have worked if our central characters weren't so easy to root for. Shrek and Donkey were good enough, but I really liked how Fionna was put together...the sequence where she beat the sh*t out of Robin Hood and his Merry Men had me grinning from ear to ear. I found myself not wanting Shrek to end, I got what I wanted in at least one more serviceable sequel, but that's another discussion. Shrek introduced us to this particular world beautifully, and put Dreamworks Animation on the map.
How to Train Your Dragon is a film that quite frankly caught me by surprise. It flew under my radar until my brother dragged me to the theater and his excitement was infectious, and words can't describe how much the film won me over. I wanted my own Toothless, I rooted for Hiccup to prove his worth every step of the way. On top of all that, the climactic battle rocked my world, that awesomeness came out of left field. The film was great visually, the aerial sequences were amazing to look at, and wanted to see more of it. The world of HTTYD, and the characters that inhabit it made for more that I want to see more of, give us that sequel.
Shrek
So there you have it, I loved How to Train Your Dragon. But the accolades Shrek received (including the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature) and the praise the film has received from critics and the public alike has been no fluke. Shrek has a great balance of humor via fairy tale references and the relationships between the characters to boot, with serviceable heart to the story. But that's the lovely thing about opinions, they differ. Where do you lot stand? Strike back!

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which Dreamworks animated film is your favorite?
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