In Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, director Dean DuBlois and Chris Sanders take the audience on a spectacular adventure through the seaside Viking village of Burke, where “it snows nine months out of the year and hails the other three,” and where the houses are all new even though the village is old because they are continually being attacked by dragons! Leading this fun tale of Viking dragon-hunters is Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder), a smallish, rather nerdy and gadget-oriented teen whose father Stoick, voice by Gerard Butler (The Bounty Hunter, 300), is the burly, brusque leader of the Burke Vikings. And Hiccup’s unlikely sidekick is Toothless, a sweet but fearsome Night Fury dragon.
Based on the novel by Cressida Cowell, the film centers around Hiccup finding Toothless wounded, and then befriending him rather than killing him, something unheard of in Viking history. From here, Hiccup studies Toothless and learns how to treat dragons in a way that transforms them from raging beasts into gentle pets (hence the title). Hiccup keeps Toothless a secret, so his sudden taming of dragons in Dragon Training — after years of being a cowardly klutz — happily surprises the villagers, especially Stoick, who had all but given up that his only son would take up the family business of dragon-slaying. But with the end of Dragon Training comes a difficult dilemma: Hiccup must kill a dragon.
How to Train Your Dragon wonderfully incorporates the traditional kid-movie theme of “parents don’t understand” with the message that friends can be found in the most unlikely places and your enemy is quite possibly more like you than you realize. Against an amazing background of life-like animation and an actual musical score by John Powell (as opposed to the string of familiar songs Hollywood has become so fond of these days) is a boy and his dragon fighting against all odds to maintain their new-found friendship.
Along for the ride are America Ferrara (Ugly Betty), whose voice somehow fits perfectly with the scrawny blonde Astrid who is Hiccup’s love interest, Craig Ferguson (The Drew Carey Show) who voices Stoick’s amusing though hobbled sidekick Gobber, Jonah Hill (Funny People, Superbad) who aptly voices an arrogant boy whose brawn often gets in the way of his brain, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad), voicing a rather large geeky teen whose constant role-playing game references are funny but eventually useful.
It is a simple movie with a predictable ending, but the obvious jokes are well-timed—”We’re Vikings. We have stubbornness issues.”—and the animation is life-like and thrilling. The animation team, under art director Pierre-Olivier Vincent, does a fantastic job! The Viking ships match perfectly to period drawings, and each dragon moves and sounds like one would believe a real flying reptile to move and sound. The flight sequences are particularly exceptional, especially against the backdrop of perfect cumulus, stratus, and cumulonimbus clouds. All in all, the movie is fun and entertaining, with a good message for both kids and parents.
Review By: Alexandra Pauley