How to Train Your Dragon


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

“How to Train Your Dragon” is an amazing 3D ride that will impress both kids and adults. This film does practically everything right and ends up being one of the best films I’ve seen in 2010. Any fans of Vikings or dragons are required to view this.

This film is based on the book by Cressida Cowell.

Hiccup is not your typical Viking. While his father Stoick is big and tough, Hiccup is small and wimpy. While other Vikings are battling their archenemies, the dragons, with swords and catapults, Hiccup is designing mechanical devices to protect the village from the reptiles. While the other Viking kids fight fires in the village when attacked by dragons, Hiccup is stuck manning the blacksmith shop. In short, he doesn’t fit in.

When Hiccup tests one of his dragon fighting devices in battle, he manages to take down one of the most deadly and rare dragons known to the Vikings. But when faced with the option of killing the wounded creature, he finds himself unable to do so. Not only that, he starts studying and helping the creature survive and regain flight. Hiccup soon learns that everything they thought about dragons was completely wrong. But when the world of the Vikings and the dragons collide again, which side will Hiccup take?

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

What Worked:
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. I saw this film in 3D and was quite impressed by it. This is a case of 3D done right. 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. The 3D takes your appreciation of the animation to a whole new level. 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.

What Didn’t Work:
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.

The Bottom Line:
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!