How to Train Your Dragon (2010): United States – directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Rated PG by the MPAA – contains contains action violence and some scary images
How to Train Your Dragon is one of the most exciting animated movies to come along in quite some time, and perhaps one of the best animated films ever by a company not named Pixar or Disney. An interesting and unique setting combines with some thrill-ride moments and a qualified grasp of film production by the filmmakers to create quite an enjoyable film.
The basic story will be familiar, but the setting and characters add a certain unique charm. Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) is a small, puny boy who lives on an island in the North Atlantic. An opening monologue introduces his town as being hundreds of years old, but with new buildings. The reason, it becomes clear, is that the occasional attack by vicious dragons leaves the villages sans sheep and unburned houses. But the townspeople fight back. They are Vikings after all, led by the enormous and brave Stoick (Gerard Butler). They fight back the dragons and defend their town; the feud between humans and dragons has lasted centuries.
But Hiccup is not allowed to fight, seeing as he can hardly lift a weapon. He is a failure and disgrace to his father, who just happens to be Stoick. He is the laughingstock of the village, but he is an inventive boy who dreams of gaining glory by smiting a fearsome dragon. He gets a chance in an attack on the village, when a dreadful Night Terror attacks. Hiccup rolls out his mechanical net-flinging contraption, and happens to score a hit on the black beast.
The villagers do not believe his tale, leaving him to search the island for the downed dragon. He soon discovers that the dragon is not dead, only wounded. After a variety of trips to observe the dragon struggling to escape a small canyon, he starts to learn more about it. To begin with, it’s actually kind of cute. Also, it’s not as fearsome when approached peacefully. Pretty soon he strikes upon an idea, and his cleverness allows him to start training the dragon.
An astute reader might assume that the story does not end there, and they would be correct. A grand tale follows, full of adventure and excitement, flights through the trees and around the rocks surrounding the island, and a great deal of dragon fighting. Hiccup also has a young woman to impress, the fearsome Astrid (America Ferrera). She is ready to enter battle against the hated dragons, and convincing her that there is more to the species than she knew is quite a challenge.
The movie does practically everything right. Aside from a few moments of cheesy emotionality the film hits all the right notes. What it does best is show the relationship between Hiccup and the dragon unfolding. These sequences offer little to no dialogue; the actions of the two characters are sufficient to follow their development. In fact, there are very few instances where the film merely tells the audience what’s occurring. Most things are related visually, in a great move for Dreamworks as they struggle to produce quality films.
Visually the film is impressive, but more because of the characters and the dragons than any technical element. What I enjoyed most about the film were the action sequences. A mixture of high-flying fights and up close and personal sequences between Vikings and dragons are all exciting. Some of the most impressive moments involve the awe of soaring atop a dragon, and scenes later in the film are impressive because of the sheer scope of the dragon species. There is plenty for children to enjoy in How to Train Your Dragon. Pratfalls and physical humor abound, but it is all light and harmless humor. Adults will be drawn in by the fun and enjoyable characters, and the deeply realized world in which Vikings and dragons are forever drawn into battle. While not rivaling Pixar’s best work, How to Train Your Dragon certainly seems to be leading Dreamworks down the right track.
Note: I saw the film first as a 2D workprint and enjoyed it tremendously. A second chance to watch the finished product, in 3D, was just as enjoyable. The 3D is unobtrusive and enjoyable, but I am sure those desiring a crisper screen and sharper colors will want to catch this in 2D