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Review by Ivan Dixon

When I was a kid dinosaurs were all the rage, so I can see why children are flocking to see their cousin- The Dragon  in the How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular.

The show is adapted from the 2010 Dreamworks film, which was based on the children’s books by British author Cressida Cowell about a boy who befriends a dragon. The Arena Spectacular is produced by Global Creatures and made it’s world premiere earlier this month in Melbourne.

Most impressive to me is how it combines such a vast array of creative mediums into one coherent performance. Audiences are treated to comical theatrics, 2D and CGI animated projections, puppetry, acrobatics, dance, music, pyrotechnics and the real show stealer, giant animatronic dragons.

The masterfully operated dragons were designed by The Creature Technology Company, the Melbourne workshop responsible for the animatronics in the Walking With Dinosaurs Arena Spectacular in 2007.

A certain amount of creative license has been taken with the story and design. The plot has been compressed, new segments added and the dragons have been given a highly detailed make-over.

By and large this works well, playing to the strengths of live performance. A couple of the highlights included a very clever acrobatics scene, involving the projection of animated footage behind a suspended actor and the use of shadow puppetry to represent a new storybook scene.

One of my only criticisms is that in an attempt to give realism to the dragons, the bold appeal of the original designs have been compromised. Whereas in Julie Taymor’s musical adaptation of The Lion King, the characters became more stylised, borrowing from African tribal art, it seems that the dragons have actually become more conservative than their film counterparts. The fiery Monstrous Nightmare suffered the most, going from a googly eyed, long necked terror, to basically a generic looking dinosaur. The double-headed dragon was left out altogether, which I can only assume was due to budgetary constraints.

Fortunately they nailed the design of lead dragon, Toothless, who dazzled the crowd on the ground with it’s believable body language and in the air with impressively crafted flight scenes. They could easily double their profits by allowing children to pet the robotic dragons.

Another minor quibble is that on a couple of occasions major plot points are a little vague or rushed. This required an existing familiarity with the plot, however, it’s probably safe to assume that most kids in the audience had seen the film a dozen times, so this might not be such a problem.

Overall, How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular is a high energy, multi-talented performance that entertains throughout and is sure to be a winner with any fans of the film. The show will tour New Zealand and the US later this year.

This has been a guest post by Ivan Dixon, Director at Melbourne’s Rubber House studios. If you have a story you’d like to share with the Australian animation community please dont hesitiate to contact us to discuss your ideas. We are hoping to make it a regular part of the site. info@ozaniamte.com

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