Based almost not at all on the book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon” is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel: “She's Out of My League”), son of viking leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler: “300”). Hiccup's village is under constant assault by a variety of dragons who steal their food and destroy their homes, and as a result the vikings have made it their purpose in life to find and destroy the dragons.
The film opens with an epic battle as the vikings try to defend their village from an aerial dragon assault. Hiccup, who is the apprentice of Gobber (Craig Ferguson: “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson”), the village blacksmith, frantically tries to cross the village to help sharpen and distribute weapons, all the while being told to get inside by everyone who sees him due to how utterly useless he is.
When Gobber himself goes to join the battle he leaves Hiccup alone to mind the shop, giving the young wannabe dragonslayer a chance to try out his ballista-like bola launcher. With no one else around to see it happen, Hiccup manages to take down the most feared of dragons, a dragon never before seen by anyone who lived to tell about it, the Night Fury.
In order to prove himself in the eyes of his father, his village, and maybe even get himself a date with Astrid (America Ferrera: “Ugly Betty”), Hiccup tracks the dragon to where it crashed, preparing to slay the dragon and bring back its heart. Upon finding his wounded prey he discovers that he does not have it in him to kill the defenseless beast, and further discovers that everything his people know about dragons may be wrong.
“How to Train Your Dragon” is the newest film by Dreamworks, and my first instinct is to compare it to other computer animated films. The movie comes in a little lacking when compared to Pixar masterpieces like “Up”, but compared to other Dreamworks films like “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Shrek” the movie easily hold its own, and even excels in visual quality. Compared to movies like “Madagascar” the movie seems downright awesome.
The animation is very good, and a lot of attention has been put into the small details. You can make out individuals hairs on the heads and faces of the vikings and their clothes, and the fire effects are probably the best I have seen in a computer animated picture; they were so good in fact that during the film's climax they looked like they would be more at home as an effect in a live action film than a cartoon. Dreamworks may not be quite at the Pixar level yet, but they are making great strides.
The film is not without its problems, but they are minor ones. For some reason that either was not explained or was lost on me all of the adult vikings have Scottish accents, yet all of the kids sound American. Now I'm not expert on vikings, but I am pretty sure they did not come from Scotland or the United States.
Another issue, and I am sure this is because of merchandising, is that the dragons look just a little too cute to be as scary as they should be for a lot of the movie. The Night Fury in particular kept making me think of a Pokemon, and I found that a little distracting as I kept trying to figure out which one it made me think of (I ended up deciding on either Mudkip or Latios, if you are interested).
Like most Dreamworks animated features, “Dragon” has a fantastic cast. Aside from those I have already mentioned, keep an ear out for Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”), Jonah Hill (“Superbad”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Superbad”), David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), and Ashley Jensen (“Extras”) who fill out much of the rest of the cast. Accents aside, they all do a fantastic job breathing life into their characters.
Sure this movie is no “Up” or “The Incredibles”, but it is also not a “Madagascar 2” or “Ice Age 12.5”, and that is a very good thing. Fans of the book may find themselves wondering what happened to the story they love, but for the rest of us “How to Train Your Dragon” is a well done fast paced family film with plenty of laughs and action to keep you interested. This should prove to be a very strong launch for a new film franchise, something Dreamworks needs if they really intend to retire Shrek.
If you want a film you can take the whole family to this weekend, “Dragon” is easily the best choice. There is some mild (and not so mild) innuendo, but most of that will go right over younger viewers' heads. Without spoiling anything, I will say that there is one bit at the end where parents may have to do a little explaining to their kids, but I liked how this showed that some things are permanent, and if they intend to follow the series of books at all (even if just in titles alone), I am sure that this figures into the sequel.
I strongly recommend seeing this in theaters if you are at all interested (IMAX if you can), as this movie is not going to seem quite so epic on the small screen. Spend a couple of extra bucks for the 3D version, the sense of depth it adds to the movie is nice, and the flying sequences look fantastic. The use of 3D is sure to amaze younger (and some older) viewers.
“How to Train Your Dragon” burns its way into theaters nationwide this weekend.
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