Soundtrack Review: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
April 20th, 2010

Rating: 4/5

One of the greatest joys of animated films is usually the score that accompanies them. It has taken a few decades to step up the storytelling in these films to create tales entertaining to both children and adults, but the music has almost always been a highlight, regardless of the film’s content. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was not only a delight to watch, the accomplished score brought it to new heights (insert obvious pun about flying here).

All the pieces on the soundtrack were composed by John Powell, along with a new track from Jónsi (lead singer of Sigur Rós) who recently released his first solo effort, "Go." Powell worked on previous DreamWorks Animation releases (SHREK, KUNG FU PANDA) through Remote Control Productions, a music company overseen by veteran composer, Hans Zimmer.  This time around, it is all Powell.

Well-versed in a variety of film genres, Powell has lent his musical style to films ranging from the action-packed THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM to Dr. Seuss’ animated HORTON HEARS A WHO! to the romantic comedy PS, I LOVE YOU. His classical training, along with his interest in more modern musical styles from rock to jazz to pop has created a collection that is not only an instant classic, but is also an interesting and wonderful musical journey.

Full-bodied and diverse, the first track alone (“This Is Berk”) plays like a mini movie within just one composition. With this track, Powell proves that he is just getting started. Each song blends seamlessly into the previous one, creating an album of wall-to-wall sound and emotion. Powell does not shy away from bringing things down and then back up again within a single track rather than assigning a single song an emotion and having each play in contrast to one another to create the same depth.

The themes developed in “Test Drive” are echoed in the much shorter refrain “This Time for Sure” as Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, get the hang of flying together. “Astrid Goes for a Spin” continues this theme and gives the collection its own musical storyline as the songs support one another rather than constantly try to one-up the previous one. Powell gives us the pleasure of hearing different versions of this theme as it is played by strings, horns, piano, and even percussion. It is almost like a game of sonic hide-and-seek in which you never know which instrumentation will take the forefront and surprise you next.

One of my favorite tracks was “Forbidden Friendship” as the optimism and excitement of befriending a dragon (a Viking’s sworn enemy) vibrates through the piece. Jónsi’s track, "Sticks & Stone," was also a highlight as the one non-composed piece with more electronic, rather than orchestral, undertones. This song is placed at the end of the album, but is still sandwiched in between two of Powell’s pieces, proving that although a slightly different style, the piece still fits with the collection as a whole.

What was most impressive to me with this soundtrack was how each song felt like its own musical journey even though most of the tracks clock in at less than four minutes in length. It is quite the feat to not only seemingly suspend time within a song, but make listeners (at least this listener) still want more. If you are a fan of film scores, this collection is a must-have. Or if you simply enjoyed the film and would like to have a little piece of Berk to take with you, this album takes you right back to the island and a world full of Vikings and dragons.

This soundtrack is available through Varèse Sarabande Records.

1. “This Is Berk” – John Powell
2. “Dragon Battle” – John Powell
3. “The Downed Dragon” – John Powell
4. “Dragon Training” – John Powell
5. “Wounded” – John Powell
6. “The Dragon Book” – John Powell
7. “Focus, Hiccup!” – John Powell
8. “Forbidden Friendship” – John Powell
9. “New Tail” – John Powell
10. “See You Tomorrow” – John Powell
11. “Test Drive” – John Powell
12. “Not So Fireproof” – John Powell
13. “This Time for Sure” – John Powell
14. “Astrid Goes for a Spin” – John Powell
15. “Romantic Flight” – John Powell
16. “Dragon’s Den” – John Powell
17. “The Cove” – John Powell
18. “The Kill Ring” – John Powel
19. “Ready the Ships” – John Powell
20. “Battling the Green Death” – John Powell
21. “Counter Attack” – John Powell
22. “Where’s Hiccup?” – John Powell
23. “Coming Back Around” – John Powell
24. “Sticks & Stone” – Jónsi
25. “The Vikings Have Their Tea” – John Powell

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