That’s the thought that came to mind not too far into the How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular at the Verizon Center last night while watching the character Hiccup running on the screen wall, simulating climbing up a mountain, at times stumbling on rocks and falling on tree branches, all in perfect, although perpendicular choreography. In what they call a “full arena experience” DreamWorks makes use of every square inch of performance area. The floor, ceiling, and a wall of screens that is the equivalent of nine movie screens are part of the set as well as all the air space in between — not just for flying dragons, but to create an entire underwater sequence, filling the air with blue light and lighted bubbles. For a few minutes, the audience of the Verizon Center was underwater along with Hiccup and Toothless. The blurred lines of participation and performance continued throughout How To Train Your Dragon Live as audience cheers and screams became part of scenes such as the Dragon Games, and characters “broke the fourth wall” several times.
The scale of the show is immense and not just because of the enormous dragons, the larger of which can weigh over 1.6 tons. It takes 20 projectors (each costing $100,000 and processing 150 GB of video) to run the show. The floor is made up of 240 square tiles held together by 28,000 magnets and is yet another screen for the projectors, literally setting the stage to depict places on Hiccup’s hometown, the Isle of Berk, as well as the sea, and the dragon nest. The sophistication and scale of the show is comparable to an Olympic opening games ceremony, and dare I say, even better than some.
The dragons themselves are amazing to watch. While their mechanics are not completely hidden — the larger ones are trailed by beige motorized vehicles that blend into the flooring — they move so well and have such incredible facial expressions that it is easy to quickly suspend any disbelief. Small children may get frightened, my six-year-old JavaGirl at times covered her eyes, on the other hand, a two-year-old near us still enjoyed the show. There is enough comic relief mixed in to keep the show from being too frightening for too long. If for no other reason than to watch these large creatures “fly” it is worth it to take the family to see the show — all four of us enjoyed watching the large dragons take flight right before our very eyes. It is the closest you will ever get to having your kids see a “real” dragon.
The PR company for How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular graciously provided my family with complimentary seats so I could see and review the show, so I did not know where we would be seated. We were in the 215 section of the Verizon Center, which put us in the upper “club concourse” level and very close to the tall screen. For this show, the more you can get to a dead-on view of the tall wall screen, the better (think sections 104-109, which I now see is labelled “Dragon Hot Seats” on the ticketing web site), but it is not essential. We still got to experience everything and the show gives a great theater-in-the-round performance. The lower level will give you a more close-up view of the actors, but we certainly were able to see the dragons well from the upper level and got a great view of them flying! This is something to keep in mind when comparing the prices of varying seating options. Yes, some seats are better than others, but there really doesn’t appear to be a bad seat in the house. While there are live actors in the performance, the dragons, technology and acrobatics are really the heart of the show and all can be seen throughout the stadium. If seeing the actors’ faces is critical to your enjoyment, you will want to sit at a lower level. The sound is crystal clear not only due to the Verizon Center’s acoustics, but the 170 speakers brought to the show.
Let’s face it — the tickets are not inexpensive. Though there is a coupon code good for tonight’s Friday night performance (MOM in the promo box “mom blogger”) for most performances the least expensive seats are closer to $53 once you add in all the fees, which brings this to a $212 cost (plus parking, plus any concessions you buy) for a family of four. On the other hand, what I will tell you is that this is a memory-building experience. So if you find yourself comparing other things you may spend that money on (for example, two nights of eating out) versus this evening, I will say that based on how much my kids have already talked about the experience, this is worth the expenditure. They have already told every person they have seen since last night about the show. They have zoomed around the house with their plastic Toothlesses. (Teethless?) And these are kids who are fortunate enough to have a mom who blogs and gets tickets to lots of events so they are able to see lots of wonderful things. It is an investment, but this is one of those shows that is worth it. In addition to the show itself, it opens a conversation into the mechanics behind it, and if you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, you know how much I love anything that opens the mind to the uses of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math.)
If you have the extra money to spend on VIP tickets, we were also able to participate in a Dragon 101 Tech Talk, which is part of Hero’s Welcome package (we did not do the whole Hero’s Welcome) and all four of us found that quite enjoyable precisely because it gave us all the geeky behind-the-scenes details.
Storyline and Related Souveniers
The story is a condensed version of the movie (which is based on the book series by Cressida Cowell – which we have not read but now plan to). JavaDad had not seen the movie and still enjoyed the performance immensely. Being familiar with the movie is a plus, but not an absolute requirement. If your children are fans of the movie, be prepared for the inevitable hit up for How to Train Your Dragon items they will see — though my kids are trained not to ask for souveniers when we go to these events, I could practically feel the desire oozing out of their pores for the large hard-plastic Toothless dragons and asked them if they’d like them (at $25 a pop), to which they eagerly nodded their heads. JavaGirl has not let go of hers ever since and JavaBoy took his over to a friend’s house today. We were provided a complimentary program book and I forgot to see what the price is, but it is a well-produced glossy book with facts about the show, technical information about the dragons, and bios not only about the cast, but the technical people behind the making of the show. It is filled with beautiful photos of the production and if you are going to only get one keepsake from the show, it is a lovely one.
The Bottom Line
Though we were provided complimentary tickets, had we purchased tickets, this would have been well worth the money. JavaBoy had already been up for 12 hours before the show started due to swim practice and sports camp and poor JavaGirl not only had just missed yet another day of camp but just found out she had strep throat. These kids could have easily crashed out on me and instead were absolutely riveted by the show and even remained alert and engaged for the Dragons 101 Tech Talk afterward. Though they were sleepy for the drive home, they excitedly chatted for a good 15 minutes before I suggested giving in to the sleep. I find myself still thinking about the many clever theatrics used throughout the performance from the high tech to even the lower tech simple abstract representations such as lighted paper lantern ships on poles to represent the Viking fleet at sea in search of the dragon nest. To me, these are all signs of family entertainment time and dollars well spent. I highly recommend How to Train Your Dragons Live Spectacular.
Disclosure: This is a review. I was provided four complimentary tickets and a program book in order to attend the performance of How to Train Your Dragon Live and write this review, but all opinions are my own and receipt of the tickets did not color my opinion. Facts about the show itself (i.e. size of the screen, etc.) are based on information provided by the PR company and/or representatives of the show. This post includes a link to Amazon.com and I am an Amazon Associate, meaning I may get a tiny percentage of the sale should you purchase this book or anything else from Amazon after clicking on the link.