Entertainment » Theatre

How to Train Your Dragons Live Spectacular!

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Saturday Jan 19, 2013
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Flying Rarmian Newton and Toothless
Flying Rarmian Newton and Toothless  (Source:Lisa Tomasetti)

The creators behind the eye-popping arena show "Walking with Dinosaurs" have moved on to a different sort of creature with Dreamwork’s "How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular."

Based on the hit film, the story follows Viking-wanna-be Hiccup (Riley Miner) as he befriends a young dragon he names "Toothless" and saves his kingdom from the mean and nasty baddie Red Death. All the while, he teaches his village that dragons aren’t the scary and heartless creatures they believe them to be. Oh, and he also finds a girlfriend in the tomboy Astrid (Gemma Nguyen).

Reimagined in an arena space, the production uses an expansive floor space to allow actors to move through the story while interacting with life-size dragons that are manipulated by computer. Clearly, these creatures are the stars of the show and they are genuinely impressive. Their mouths move naturally, they have expressions and reactions that are life-like, and they walk and fly around the arena like living (fire) breathing animals. It’s fascinating to watch and easy to forget they are just impressive animatronic creations.

One of the most impressive moments was when Hiccup decides to strike down a Night Fury dragon to prove his mettle.

The far end of the "stage" is outfitted with a massive screen that displays constant background projections that also includes openings for actors to come in and out of the set -- both on the floor and many stories up. One of the most impressive moments was when Hiccup decides to strike down a Night Fury dragon to prove his mettle.

Attaching himself to a harness, the actor then runs horizontally across the screen as projected images of cobblestone paths, rickety bridges, cliffs, mountains, and snowy glaciers flash on top of it. It’s an extraordinary mix of dexterity and jaw-dropping precision.

The lighting design keeps the audience abreast of where they are, whether it is underwater, on the sea, or running along a fire-branded footpath. The scenes where Hiccup and friends (including the amusing Fish Legs, played by Dexter Mayfield) ride the dragons are fun with screen projections giving the flying a bit more immediacy and motion.

Let’s face it; the dragon creations are cumbersome so they can’t move all that quickly, which is probably the one drawback of the show. Sequences are a little hard to follow when the actors speak in regular cadences, but the action is in slow-motion. Regardless, seeing an enormous dragon in flight is still a "wow" for both young and old.

"How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular" runs through Jan. 20 at the Honda Center, 2695 East Katella Avenue in Anaheim. For info or tickets, call 714-704-2400 or visit www.dreamworksdragonslive.com

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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