Children of all ages packed into the Verizon Center last Thursday for the opening night of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular. The live action event tells the story of a young Viking named Hiccup, played by Riley Miner, trying desperately to earn his Viking horns by hunting dragons. Hiccup is not your typical hero. He’s scrawny and slight, much to the dismay of his brawny father Stoick, who is the head of the village. The village is constantly under attack by fiery dragons who swoop down to steal livestock and set the village ablaze. Hiccup sets out to hunt the elusive and mysterious night fury dragon. But after trapping the dragon, cannot bring himself to kill it. Instead, he strikes up a friendship with the young dragon he affectionately names Toothless and thus begins a friendship that takes them on a journey that will forever transform the dragons and the Vikings alike.
The lighting and sound effects, coupled with the technical genius behind the live action dragons were truly a sight to behold and experience. As my daughter and I sat in the audience, we truly felt we were on the adventure with Hiccup. Whether fighting the fiery dragons as they breathed fire and destruction on the village, or soaring over the majestic mountains as Hiccup takes his first flight with Toothless, all of your senses were involved and you truly felt as though you were right alongside Hiccup.
The genius behind the animation of the dragons was extraordinary. With each movement, roar and fiery breath, the dinosaurs came to life in such a way that you forgot these were large scale puppets, some taking up to four puppeteers to maneuver. At times, you felt as though you could reach out and touch the dragons. The dragons were so full of life, character and expression and were able to communicate on such a human level with the audience. As audience members, you are fully immersed in the wonder and magic of Hiccup and Toothless’ world, where action and adventure lie behind every corner. Your disbelief was truly suspended and you believed within your heart that it was perfectly normal to fly, to soar above the clouds, to be brave and fearless.
Heart and storytelling are what set this production apart from other live action adaptations. From the very beginning, you cared about what happened to Hiccup, Toothless and the rest of the characters. You felt the excitement of Hiccup as he went into battle to protect his family. You felt the instant connection between Hiccup and Toothless at their first meeting and the strong bond that would grow between them. You felt the rush of first love between Hiccup and Astrid, played by Gemma Nguyen. You felt the adrenaline course through your body as our heroes, Hiccup and Toothless, worked together to destroy the queen of the dragons’ nest. You felt the love between with Hiccup and his dad Stoick as they realized that family is most important in life. Finally, you felt the harmony and understanding shared by the Vikings and the dragons once they learned that they need one another in order to survive.
As my daughter and I left the arena hand in hand and I saw other moms and dads holding their precious ones close to them, I believe that was the lesson and message in How to Train Your Dragon: we all need each other.