Even if you pride yourself on possessing intimate knowledge of the happenings within the computer generated animated feature film industry, there’s a pretty good chance 2008’s Dragon Hunters flew well below your proverbial radar. However, unlike most internationally collaborated films of the genre, this isn’t necessarily due to lack of quality.
The feature film being reviewed here is actually the end result of a (52-episode) French cartoon series of the same name that ran from 2006-2007.
Coming in at a runtime of 80-minutes and wearing an appropriate PG rating (for fantasy action, some scary imagery and language), the Dragon Hunters domestic release contains a handful of features including an interview with Forest Whitaker, character biographies, a gallery of the various dragons featured in the film, a look at the Dragon Hunters Universe and an original trailer for the film.
Visually the film manages to outdo its budget in nearly every conceivable category from textures to lighting, from character models to color pallet itself (especially in high definition). Additionally, and adding to the home theatrical experience, scoring and dialog presented in Dolby 5.1 digital surround is mixed flawlessly.
The story, which is actually far closer to high fantasy than it is a simplistic fairy tale, centers on a young girl named Zoe, who lives under the tyrannical rule of her uncle in a sprawling castle under the constant threat of being shipped off to the convent. In the meantime her Uncle, Lord Arnold, can only sit back and await the return of the liege of knights he sent out to destroy a dragon so nasty, that it’s mere existence prevents the world from coming into bloom. Sadly each of his returning knights arrive in various states of failure from having been burned to ash to succumbing to madness.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is in its casting as the slow, monotonous droning of Forest Whitaker (Lian-Chu) is offset brilliantly by the constant fluctuation of Rob Paulsen’s animation-staple vocals (Gwizdo). Add to this mix a small talking dog-like critter (Hector) that could have been lifted directly from Hanna-Barbara and an enthusiastic young girl high on fairy tales and the ensemble plays quite well off one another.
Additionally noteworthy is the English mouth flaps- as in they are spot-on enough to convince the viewer that the dialog was originally recorded in English (it’s in fact French in its original form).
The story takes places in a world that exists in the sky, where massive forms of earth and stone float freely and occasionally collide. It’s a technique that’s been accomplished frequently in computer animation (Aero Troopers, Kaena the Prophecy) but perhaps never as convincingly and as visually intriguing as it is here.
Where the film falters a bit is in its pacing; which isn’t to say that it commits any crimes that would be noticeable by a motion-picture-going audience so much as it possesses none of the snappy polished flow of your average Pixar/ DreamWorks piece. In fact, this trend could arguably make Dragon Hunters a more appealing piece to a slightly older demographic than that of the projects coming out of the studios mentioned above. Additionally, while its attempts at humor never actually fail, they are much more subtle and integrated than one typically expects in an animated feature.
All of these elements could be viewed as pros or cons depending on your expectations going into the film. For me personally, the plot seemed to drag on a bit at about the ¾ mark, due in part perhaps to the fact that the presentation values are so high in the production that the Pixar always-perfect pacing began to feel like a given. Unfortunately, it never manifests. The dialog too seems a bit more subdue and snide than is often expected in an animated feature. Again, perhaps not a bad thing in and of itself but certainly something to be aware of going in.
All in all, it’s tough to come away from this film without a deeper appreciation for what goes into creating a computer generated feature from the ground up. The sheer volume of companies vested in bringing this film to life is staggering. The end result is quite solid; certainly more enjoyable if viewed from the perspective of an animated fantasy piece not unlike Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal than say, a less-popular alternative to How to Train Your Dragon. Younger audiences may find the movie-like pacing and lack of cartoony dialog a bit of a trudge to get through but older viewers, especially those with a soft spot for fantasy, will definitely find much to enjoy here.
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About the reviewer
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing. … more