Cloaked Critic Reviews Dragon Hill Picture

!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!

"Dragon Hill" is a Spanish animated fantasy-adventure film released in 2002. The story revolves around the titular world of Dragon Hill, a magical place where dragons live and human beings from various places throughout history occasionally find themselves transported by way of the elemental gateways of earth, air, fire, and water. Only Ethelbert, the guardian, holds the key to let the displaced castaways return home; however conflict arises when the evil magician, Septimus, who came to Dragon Hill by way of fire, escapes his prison demanding Ethelbert show him the way out. When Septimus' new powers prove too great, it will fall upon Kevin, a boy from the Dark Ages, and Ethelbert's grandson, Elfie to save the day.

I, in particular, love the animation for this film. It has a style that harkens back to such timeless classics as the early "Land Before Time" sequels while simultaneously reminding me of more recent unsung guilty pleasures of mine like "Dinotopia: Quest for the Ruby Sunstone". In addition, the plot of the film takes me back to my early childhood and many of the cartoons from the late 80's as its story is abundant with the same type of spirited fantasy that was such a major element in a lot of the cartoons made during that time. Stories like this are rich with childlike wonder and mirth, and as such they always hold a special place in my heart. This movie also took the innovative mile of blending 3D graphics with the primary 2D animation. This is an artistic combination I quite prefer, because in my personal opinion if you're going to use 3D it should be used solely to compliment the 2D animation, not replace it. The 3D graphics are mostly used for the environmental layout and some of the magical and action-based effects. Some of the 3D feels a bit tacky at certain points, but otherwise I feel it blends almost seamlessly with the rest of the animation.

On the subject of flaws, I will admit that the movie's dialogue does seem to come off as a bit awkward and abnormal at times, but I would mostly chalk that up to this being an English dub of a foreign film. Another point of criticism lies with the movie's main conflict. Septimus the wizard is only a problem in this story because Dragon Hill has some very odd ideas about how to deal with evildoers. Allowing bad guys to stay in your hometown, even if you imprison them in some whacked-out floating temple is usually not the best idea, because, as this movie illustrates, they're likely to break out and cause trouble. Never keep shit where you sleep. That's always a good motto to follow. I mean I can understand if the dragons can't really control who manages to find their way into Dragon Hill (by the very vague arbitrary means this movie lies out), but just because a villain slips in through the cracks doesn't mean you have to keep them around. You're dragons for crying out loud! If you're really so interested in protecting the world from their evil either fry 'em or eat 'em. It doesn't make any sense to keep evil people in an otherwise wholesome place of wonder and fantasy...except of course to create obligatory fantasy-adventure conflict.

Of course as far as villains go, Septimus is about as intimidating as Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible. He talks a big talk and tries to put on a scary show, but when you boil it all down he's more bark than he is bite. He's hardly an evil mastermind, and he's about as fearsome as a wilted rose petal, though I do have to award him a little credit. I mean it's not every bad guy who has the balls to go toe to toe with a fire-breathing reptile! Although, to be fair, Ethelbert isn't exactly Smaug; he's more like Puff the Magic Dragon.

It would appear as though whoever wrote this story, did their homework regarding basic Occult science and witchcraft, as the movie seems to go to great lengths to weave the plot around a vague, but intriguing metaphysical lore. The story includes heavy-handed mystic themes such as the four elements of nature, time-travel, pocket dimensions, and an arcane blend of technology and mysticism, and once more it presents these elements so gingerly until even though the concepts could be expanded upon to make it far more transcendental it maintains a light-hearted balance amidst the ideological extremes that keeps it fun for kids without becoming too convoluted; making it a decent children's movie.

This movie also sports a subtle moralistic theme against materialism. This theme is nailed home the hardest by the scene where Elfie tells Kevin that Dragon Hill is littered with gold and gems, because the dragons collected treasure for thousands of years before they realized how worthless it really was. It presents a rather poetic irony for the movie which might be best summed up as "a fool's treasure is a wise man's trash". The priceless tokens and stones that human beings convet is left lying around in Dragon Hill as though they were mere rocks or clumps of dirt. There's even a point where Elfie refers to the hoard as a "load" which somewhat reminds me of that scripture about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into Heaven, but perhaps my favorite thing about this movie is the big reveal near the end.

The conclusion of this movie reveals that the dragons of Dragon Hill are far more advanced than the rest of the movie would have you believe; having advanced so far until Ethelbert's basement is really the central processor of an elaborate supercomputer that acts as a space/time transporter capable of sending people to different places throughout history, and is also probably what keeps Dragon Hill hidden from the rest of the world through some manner of temporal displacement. When questioned by Maud (the other human castaway in Dragon Hill), Ethelbert explains that the dragons had become super-advanced over thousands of years, but eventually decided that all their vast technology was excessive and unnecessary, and so now they are only used for "less important functions". This is my favorite part of the film, because it's such a refreshing contrast to how dragons are usually depicted in movies and modern fairytales. Dragons are generally associated with things primeval or medieval; never anything space-age; which is such a disservice to the lore, because if you study the mythology surrounding dragons from ancient cultures the way they are described makes them more akin to aliens than prehistoric monsters. The dragons of ancient lore have their own language, their own alphabet, they are intelligent enough to communicate in the tongue of man and their own, they have a lengthy knowledge of history, they know the value of precious stones, and some legends even say that it was dragons who taught man the ways of civilization; hence the reason why some cultures worship them as gods. A lot of modern fantasy overlooks these details, but this movie seems to play off of them, and I like it. See, M. Night! That's how you give a movie a real twist!!

I'd be one to imagine that if mankind survives long enough to become as advanced as the dragons of Dragon Hill, human beings from the distant future may very well do the same; throw off the oppressive complexity of excessive technological advancements to savor the simpler pleasures of life...but personally I doubt humankind will live to see the next century. Come the year 3000, humans will either be extinct or a subspecies subjugated by mutants, alien colonists, or renegade robots.

All of its flaws and illogical points aside, I've always found this movie to be quite compelling and fun with some very imaginative themes while still leaving plenty to the imagination; which I feel adds a pleasant slice of originality to the otherwise watered-down children's fantasy genre...certainly more than I can say for the sequel.

...oh, and technically this is also a Christmas movie because the events of the film happen on Christmas Eve, but the movie doesn't beat you over the head about that like most commercial-driven crap would, so that's another point in its favor.
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