Caliburn24 here and here be dragons!
Last weekend was the final performances of the How to Train Your Dragon Live Performance show. The show is of course based on the 2010 Dreamworks animated film directed by Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders. The film was based on the novel by Cressida Cowell. I had passed up that film in the theaters, but caught it on DVD, so I informed Chris Sanders that I would see his films without question. The film’s story is continued in the Cartoon Network animated series, Dragons: Riders of Berk. The animatronics dragons are created by Global Creatures that also created the dinos for the Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular. There is a nod to the Dreamworks studio with the actor, Riley Miner, playing Hiccup on the circular platform fishing. He pulls the logo projected on the back screen and opens the world into the Viking themed land of Berk. The name Berk is not Viking in origin and actually is a term for idiot. The nerdiness that Jay Baruchel brought to voicing Hiccup is not in the stage production. Hiccup is more of a young man than an awkward, well-meaning mechanical genius in the Peter Parker mode.
Powerful lights and fog machines create a cloud layer and puppeteers swing around dragons that eventually lead to the animatronic dragons that fly over the stage. Hiccup introduces Berk explaining that the island is plagued by dragons. This is announced with bursts of fire the heat of which you can feel in the back seats. The backdrop of the village is surreal in pink and purple with doors where the various cast members pop out. Gobber, played in the film by Craig Ferguson, here played by Will Watkins, comes out. He has the mechanical leg and left arm which was taken by a dragon. Hiccup goes to hunt for the deadliest dragon, the Night Fury, in a scene that blends the projected backdrop and stunts. Hiccup races through the village (walking on the stage wall), jumps across a cliff edge and finally gets to the platform that rises with the moon in the back. Hiccup fires his crossbow that sends out a net that entangles the dragon. Stoic, the father of Hiccup in full Viking horned helmet, faces the massive Nightmare dragon that emerges from the center stage door. The Nightmare takes a good part of the stage, has the dark red skin with black stripes, and horns. Hiccup’s clumsiness sends boulders crashing down on the village as the dragons fly away with their catch of the village’s sheep.
Hiccup walks in the forest and comes upon the Night Fury dragon. The Night Fury for those who didn’t see the film is the trademark dragon of the franchise. It has a sleek, black form with a triangular head that is almost cat-like. He takes pity on the dragon and removes the net, but the dragon is unable to fly because his tail was clipped by the net. A major part of the film was that the dragon is named Toothless by Hiccup because he has retractable teeth, but the origin of the dragon’s name is not dealt with in the stage show. The other Viking children gather in the arena to begin their training to kill dragons. The standouts are the deadly Astrid, played by Gemma Nguyen, who throws some martial arts kicks. Also Fishlegs, played by Dexter Mayfield, who is a stout fellow with more than a few dance moves. The film gives strong personalities to the other kids, the brash Snoutlout, and the acrobatic twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut, but much of the comedy from their training is lost in the live performance. Hiccup returns to the forest and gives the crippled Toothless some fish and tries to feed him some eels which he refuses. He scratches under Toothless’ chin which he finds is the dragon’s sweet spot.
At the arena, Gobber appears in a chair that is propelled by a dragon strapped to the bottom rung and shoots out sparks from its backside. The Gronckle dragon is sent into the arena from the main door. It is a portly dragon with a chubby head, it has a purplish skin spotted with white nodules, and tiny wings on its back. This one seemed to be a favorite with the audience. It also had the habit of releasing gas which brought a laugh. The kids try to go after the Gronckle starting with Fishlegs under the direction of Gobber. The Gronckle goes out of control and it is the late arrival of Hiccup who calms it that saves the day. Stoic appears in the audience to the left of the arena and speaks to Gobber on stage about Hiccup. His son, is meanwhile, busy at work designing a tail for Toothless. His sketches are seen on the back wall until he finally comes up with the final design. He takes the tail and attaches it to Toothless so they can go for a test flight.
This is interrupted by a flight of dragons. Hiccup has Toothless following them to an island inhabited by the large as the stage Red Death dragon. They manage to escape. At the arena, the next dragon is brought in, the Nadder. It is a large dragon covered in spikes with a sea blue skin and a sharp snout. Again, the kids try to fight the dragon, with Astrid showing her bravery trying to take it on by herself swinging on a rope to attack it. Again, Hiccup saves the day using what he knows of dragon behavior to drive it back with eels. Astrid follows Hiccup and they go on a ride on Toothless. The final day at the arena has arrived, Hiccup defeats the Nadder, and then the Nightmare dragon comes out and Hiccup is saved by Toothless. Hiccup’s dragon is able to drive off the Nightmare using his electrical blast which is a spray of laser lighting. Stoic has Toothless tied up and he travels with Gobber and the other Vikings to the dragon island. This is achieved through the Vikings rowing oars, a mast raised behind them, and the laser and mists.
Hiccup goes to a cliffside, one of the doors at the top of the stage, to talk with Astrid who convinces him to save his father. Stoic confronts the dragon mother, the Red Death, and knows that he should have trusted his son’s word. The dragon has a massive, craggy head that just fits through the stage door. The kids fly their dragons to the island as Toothless falls into the depths of the sea. Hiccup goes swimming, suspended above the stage, to free Toothless. He runs out of air and his father saves him and Toothless. Hiccup and Toothless fly away with the Red Death in pursuit. The rest of the Red Death’s body is projected across the entire back stage. Toothless hits the Red Death with his electrical breath and it is defeated, but Hiccup and Toothless crash to the ground. Hiccup is recovering in bed when he is woken by the roar of Toothless. He stands and finds that he now has a mechanical leg. Hiccup then goes to get a kiss from Astrid and later checks on the kids who are training the Nightmare and Nadder dragons at either side of the stage. The cast takes its final bows, Stoic on the Gronckle dragon, and Astrid and Hiccup take a final ride on Toothless. It is great to see dragons walking, flying, and breathing fire. Walking with Dinosaurs had a return engagement so it might be the same with How to Train Your Dragon.