Back in the 1960s, forward thinker Walt Disney concocted the animatronic – an almost life-like puppet run by electronics. In the years since, the art animatronics has only reached new heights as they have found homes in movies, theme parks, and now arena shows like DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular – which premiered last night at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
As the lights went down and the story opened, I felt like I was suddenly thrust into the middle of a thrill ride. (In fact, with the recent news of DreamWorks theme park opening up in the tri-state area, I can only imagine what experiences they will have to offer.) It was as if my ride vehicle had paused and I was granted a private performance where a young boy finds himself in a unique situation and dragons roam free.
While the nuances of the storyline for this popular film gets lost in pauses and the spectacle (how anyone cannot be distracted by these magnificent dragons is beyond me), we do know this… Hiccup is a boy living in a fantastical Viking village where the community measures a man by his ability to slay a dragon. Rarmian Newton as Hiccup, with his Bieber-like haircut, is charming, sweet, and a little self-conscious. He is instantly likable and incredibly endearing when he successfully captures a dragon and realizes… there's no way he can kill him. He dubs the dragon "Toothless" and discovers the dragon is injured and unable to fly. Hiccup, who fancies himself an artist, is a sharp thinker and creates a contraption to get Toothless back in the air.
Of course, this goes against his entire village and most importantly, his father.
But there are dragons! Fire breathing, flying, happy, frightful, and realistically textuRed Dragons! All of which were quite captivating and helped me to push aside the fact that smaller, delightful parts of the movie were sped through. The magic of the show comes to life with the incorporation of a moving track on the ceiling, cast members cleverly hidden in costumes, and free wheeling dragons taking center stage. The addition of John Powell and Jonsi's swelling music and the set-defining use of lasers and lights pack a punch and leave a lasting effect.
The dragons (created by Global Creatures who also worked on Walking with Dinosaurs) are only enhanced by the IMAX-like screen that serves as a background to set scenes and intensify the action, the use of puppets and light, and also the tumbling and grooving of a few 'dance breakdowns' of many cast members. Standing out was Dexter Mayfield as the comedic and cool Fishtails who is always ready to bust a move. (In fact, I wanted more of him!)
In the spirit of Shrek, DreamWorks continues its tradition of hooking the kids in the audience, but subtly inserting a bit of adult humor as well. Just be warned: there are periods of darkness and flames, in addition to massive looking creatures, which could be scary for some younger eyes. If the child in front of me was any example (he was around 5), he did seem to get restless towards the end and I'll admit so did I. The show tends to move a bit sluggishly and could have done with a cut of about 30 minutes. (Also, a bit of sage advice from the young audience member. Towards the end, he leaned over to his mom and said: "stop crying!" So, beware, it does get a bit emotional.)
While this live arena show in no way replaces the 2010 movie, it serves as another avenue to connect with the story's relatable themes (love, loyalty, standing up for what you believe in) and being totally submerged in the world of Hiccup and Toothless and, therefore, allowing the audience to become a key element in the show. (I could have done without those light up viking hats though.)
How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular, this innovative theater experience which has been in development for 4 years, will mesmerize audiences at the Nassau Coliseum from August 2-4. Don't fret... it returns to the tri-state area in August and select dates in the fall. Keep an eye on the schedule here.
Pictures from official Facebook Page.