How to Train Your Dragon accomplishes the seemingly impossible: making dragons an adorable and engaging companion and friend. At the same time, it tells a suitably archetypal story of a young lad who finds his own way to defend his people from the scourge of dragons. And at the SAME time, it’s hilarious, heartfelt, and has heavy themes thrown in.
In short, How to Train Your Dragon is a great movie.
Here’s a trailer:
Released March 26, 2010
Written by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders. Based on the book by Cressida Cowell
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Starring America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, TJ Miller, and David Tennant
* * * * *
Hiccup (Baruchel) is the son of Stoick (Butler), the most courageous of viking warriors and the leader of the clan. The problem is that Hiccup is more of a thinker and inventor than a warrior, which is probably good since Hiccup is the size of one of Stoick’s legs.
Instead of training for battle with dragons, Hiccup spends his time inventing awesome contraptions to help in the fight against the dreaded beasts. See, the dragons show up with some frequency, carrying off the vikings’ livestock– and the vikings obviously aren’t fans of this type of thing. Thus, the battles are a pitched and serious business.
During one evening battle, Hiccup fires a massive bolo at what he thinks is a night fury, the most vicious and feared dragon known to viking. He’s pretty sure he hit something. But the village is in tatters and Stoick decides to lead the warriors in a search for the dragons’ lair in order to, once and for all, stop the scourge. Gobber the Belch (Ferguson), a grizzled warrior with one hand missing, is left behind to train the next crop of viking warriors.
This group of warriors consists of Hiccup’s peers, Astrid (Ferrera), Snotlout (Hill), Fishlegs (Mintz-Plasse), Tuffnut (Miller), and Ruffnut (Wiig). Tuffnut and Ruffnut are twin siblings who are tough and full of vim. Fishlegs is a walking encyclopedia of dragon lore, but is not very physically gifted. Snotlout is essentially a bravado-filled goofball. And Astrid is a gangly, tough girl who loves battle.
Hiccup and his colleagues achieve varying degrees of failure in their training while Stoick and the others are off hunting dragons. Meanwhile, Hiccup is sure his weapon hit something, so he tracks down where he thinks it landed and finds an injured night fury.
Now Hiccup forms a new friendship while innovating a way to help the night fury. Hiccup’s new understanding of dragons could either save the vikings, or doom them to destruction. And when it all comes down to one decision, Hiccup has to decide if he will rally his friends and save both the vikings and the dragons.
On the strength of the plot, with its complexities in human relationships, unshirking look at feeling like an outcast, and a truly excellent hero’s journey, How to Train Your Dragon is extremely effective. Rare is the animated film, or really any film, that has such a fine plot that tells a seemingly simple story, but really tells the story of people doing their best to live the way they choose and having to deal with the consequences.
Add to the excellent writing and character development some wonderful animation. These is not realistic stuff– the people are capable of impressive physical feats and their size is generally a caricature. But the colors are bright when they need to be, the expressions on people and dragon alike are emotive, and there’s some truly well-thought out construction of the village of Berk and the dragons’ lair. Toothless, the night fury, is a particular accomplishment, with his great expressions and snake/cat-like movement.
To top off all of this great stuff, the voice acting is mighty good. Hiccup’s dialogue had to be written with Baruchel’s self-effacing, dry-wit manner in mind, because it matched perfectly. Butler is wonderful as the gruff dad who loves his boy. Ferguson clearly had a blast voicing Gobber’s action. The team of dragon-warrior trainees also do a mighty fine job.
In short, How to Train Your Dragon delivers fun, comedy, action-packed, and heartfelt entertainment that even little kids will adore. Instant classic from DreamWorks, and very likely their best film ever.
Content warnings: some intense scenes of dragon battle
Writing: 5 Acting (voice): 5 Overall: 5
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