How to Train Your Dragon (Blu-ray)

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Jay Baruchel as Hiccup (voice)
Gerard Butler as Stoick (voice)
Craig Ferguson as Gobber (voice)
America Ferrera as Astrid (voice)
Jonah Hill as Snotlout (voice)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs (voice)
T.J. Miller as Tuffnut (voice)
Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut (voice)
Robin Atkin Downes as Ack
Philip McGrade as Starkard (voice)
Kieron Elliott as Hoark the Haggard (voice)
Ashley Jensen as Phlegma the Fierce (voice)
David Tennant as Spitelout (voice)

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

Special Features:
Blu-ray includes:
Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon: Hiccup and the gang return to search for a mysterious dragon in this all-new adventure
The Animators’ Corner Enhances the Movie-Viewing Experience through Picture-in-Picture Storyboards, Behind-the-Scenes Footage and Insightful Interviews
Uncover More Dragon Fun Facts through Pop-Up Trivia
Three Deleted Scenes are Revealed
Author Cressida Cowell Shares Her Inspiration
Learn to Draw Toothless
Take the Viking Personality Test
Race for the Gold in the Viking Winter Games
Build Your Own 3D Dragons
And More Fiery Fun!

DVD Disc:
Filmmakers’ Commentary
Viking-sized Cast
The Technical Artistry of Dragons

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
5.1 Dolby TrueHD Sound
Portuguese, Spanish and French Subtitles
Portuguese, Spanish and French Language
Running Time: 98 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“A winner with audiences and critics alike, DreamWorks Animation’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ rolls fire-breathing action, epic adventure and laughs into a captivating and original story. Hiccup is a young Viking who defies tradition when he befriends one of his deadliest foes – a ferocious dragon he calls Toothless. Together, the unlikely heroes must fight against all odds to save both their worlds.”

“Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon – Hiccup and the Viking gang are back to battle Gobber’s archenemy – the legendary BoneKnapper dragon – in this full-”scale” action-adventure. Shipwrecked on a mysterious island, the courageous kids devise a plan to capture the cagey creatures… if he even exists!”

“How to Train Your Dragon” is rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

The Movie:
Simply put, I was blown away by “How to Train Your Dragon.” I wasn’t expecting much from it, but as it played on the big screen I found myself quickly drawn into the story. As it progressed, I kept thinking, “Surely they’re going to screw this up somehow.” But the movie just kept on doing everything right up until the end.

First up is the animation. When the dragons take flight, it’s absolutely breathtaking and as impressive as any of the flying scenes in “Avatar.” As Hiccup and Toothless dive toward the ocean and fly around rocks, it’s like an amusement park ride. There are also some incredible scenes like when a cave is opened up and we see hundreds of dragons on the walls inside like bees. Or we see Vikings enter a cloud of fog and then the shape of a dragon attack them. But even when you have a Viking simply standing there talking, you can’t help but marvel at all the hairs on his coat, his bushy beard, and horned helmet. That animation is complimented by fantastic creature and set design. All of the dragons look amazing. (I noted that Toothless looked quite a bit different design-wise from all the other dragons. I actually thought he looked a little like Stitch from “Lilo & Stitch.” Sure enough, director Chris Sanders was writer, director, and voice of Stitch.) Combine them with the incredibly cool Viking houses and longboats and you have a visually impressive film.

The story is also good. It’s a pretty basic tale told over and over again. You could compare it to everything from “The Black Stallion” to “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” But it’s told in a way that makes it seem fresh. You see Hiccup torn between two worlds. You see him try and win the affection of his father. You see him go from hating the dragons to loving them. It’s a predictable but fun journey. I was also particularly impressed with the grand finale. It’s a dragon battle as impressive as any you’ve ever seen.

The voice cast is quite good. I never would have thought of Gerard Butler when casting this film, but his voice perfectly suits Stoick. (He has a hilarious scene with Hiccup where he reveals where their Viking hats came from. I won’t spoil it here.) His Scottish brogue is well complimented by Craig Ferguson as Gobber. A lot of familiar names make up the Viking kids. They include America Ferrera as Astrid, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs, and Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut. But the most notable is Jonah Hill as Snotlout who, it feels like, does a little improvisation with his lines and that makes him stand out.

I also need to point out that the score by John Powell is first rate. It has been a long time since a movie score stood out to me, but this one did. The music as the dragon soars and does battle is just really great and perfectly compliments the story and animation.

The mark of a good family film is one that entertains both the kids and the adults. My kids loved it and so did I. Being a fan of both dragons and Vikings, it’s like they made this movie for me. But this movie was fun and exciting enough that adults can go see it without the kiddies and not be ashamed. It’s that much fun. Anybody that loves science fiction or fantasy should go check it out.

I don’t think the marketing of this film was done very well. The ads before it was released didn’t get me very excited. Now having seen the film, I can say the ads I’m seeing now still don’t do the movie justice. I have to give them some credit for not spoiling some of the exciting moments in the finale, but overall I have to say you should ignore the ads and just go check it out. Hopefully it performs well at the box office.

I also have to say I’m a little torn on the voice acting of Jay Baruchel as Hiccup. In some respects he perfectly fits the character due to his wimpy, occasionally pathetic voice. But other times his voice is so flat and lifeless you can’t help but wonder what the character would be like with another voice actor. Sometimes Hiccup seems to need more excitement and wonder in his voice, but it isn’t quite there. This is nitpicking, I admit.

I’ll also add that I thought the film needed a bigger scene where Hiccup flies on Toothless for the first time. Rather than having a big, emotional, exciting ‘first flight’ moment, it is jammed in a montage scene and is almost an afterthought. Fortunately later flight scenes capture the wonder and excitement, so this is yet another nitpick of mine.

I’ve had several parents ask me if this movie was appropriate for their kids. To that I’d say that there are a few intense moments where our heroes are menaced by the dragons. There’s also a massive final battle with a scary dragon that may freak some little kids out. My 5-year-old dove into mommy’s lap during the screening. So parents of sensitive kids may want to be on alert.

I went into “How to Train Your Dragon” hoping to get a family film that I would enjoy with my kids. I walked out thinking I had seen one of the best films of 2010. Go check it out!

The Extras:
The highlight of the Blu-ray is the new short “Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon.” In it Hiccup and his friends face off against a new type of dragon that has been harassing Gobber for decades. As they hunt down the scary beast, Gobber tells stories of how it has attacked him over the years. These flashbacks are done with 2-D animation that is quite funny, but they take up about a third of the 15 minute running time. Still, it’s a fun adventure and shows what happened to our heroes after the main feature film ended.

You’ll find several featurettes also included. One shows book author Cressida Cowell and her inspiration for the series. Another is called “The Technical Artistry of Dragons” and it shows the technical challenges behind the creation of the fire, the clouds, and other things you might not have appreciated. Another featurette shows the cast. I was impressed with how enthusiastic Gerard Butler was about his role in the film.

Rounding out the bonus features is “The Animator’s Corner” which allows you to view the movie with storyboards and crew videos, a drawing tutorial, some games, shorts made for the Winter Olympics, and other goodies. Also included is a featurette on the live action Shrek play and the making of it.

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