How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: March 26th, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Christopher Sanders and Dean DeBlois Actors: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig
ith monstrous creatures, daring adventures, and climactic battles, “How to Train Your Dragon” has all the ingredients of a blockbuster action film – yet it’s a family-friendly computer animated movie. At its core, the story isn’t exactly groundbreaking (or even close to the book it’s based on) but the characters are enjoyable and the dragons range from impressive to jaw-droppingly awesome. These winged beasts are the true stars and are both well designed and cleverly expressed with top-notch animation. The flawless smoke, fire, and water effects don’t hurt either.
The island of Berk is home to a village of stubbornly stalwart Vikings who refuse to leave despite a hazardous and debilitating infestation of dragons. Time after time, heroic Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler) must fend off waves of the winged creatures as they steal livestock and burn down homes. His young son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a scrawny misfit who seems to perpetually embarrass and alienate himself from the tribe, desperately wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a great dragon slayer. But after the latest onslaught, Hiccup encounters a wounded Night Fury, the most feared and enigmatic of all dragons, and upon befriending the mighty beast, quickly changes his mind. Realizing the majestic creatures are not the mindless brutes his village has always believed them to be, Hiccup must find a way to stop the warring and save his newfound friend – a task that grows increasingly more difficult when his father enlists him in a dragon training program where the graduates must kill or be killed by the fiery reptiles.
Everyone has tough names, talk like Shrek, are built like oxen with bulky limbs, and have warrior’s facial hair – except for Hiccup, who is modeled to look exactly the opposite of anyone’s idea of a Viking. The character designs are fun, purposely contrasting the voice actors and exaggerating details quite humorously. The large array of dragons is also creatively fashioned, and the gargantuan queen unleashed during the finale is perhaps the most awe-inspiring monster of any film in the last decade, and certainly the most impressive of any computer animated film – if the Vikings were live action, this would have been a sight to behold, and a rival to “Avatar’s” award-winning creations. To make the whole event even more visually stimulating, the armor, fur, hair, clothing, shrubbery, and more are crafted with extreme attention to detail and are as realistic as possible (right down to the way in which the wind interacts with the various objects). Every environment is photorealistic and stunning.
“How to Train Your Dragon” is absolutely thrilling, with plenty of action and adventure to smooth out the spots of generic father/son bonding. Stoick’s expectations are high, Hiccup desperately wants to make his father proud, and neither can communicate with each other effectively. “Is this some kind of joke to you?” questions Astrid, who reveals one of the nagging faults with the film: as breathtaking as the dragons are, when Hiccup carelessly prances about in their attack zone, it makes every situation considerably less believable. The themes of choosing sides, doing the right thing vs. what’s expected, fitting in, and using brains over brawn are all handled well, and with the help of daring stunts, exhilarating camerawork, and wondrous landscapes, the film is a must-see event for moviegoers of all ages.
– The Massie Twins
Based on author Cressida Cowell's book, the story is surprisingly touching. It's not just about a nerdy kid hoping to show-up his peers and win the attentions of a pretty girl in the process. It's about the pressure of living up to your father's expectations, self identity, war and peace, growing up, and other seemingly heavy themes that are seamlessly woven into a funny, gripping adventure. Ferrera, who at first seems like an odd choice to voice a platinum blond Astrid, is pitch-perfect, with her authoritative voice making Astrid sound appropriately confident and mature. As in Baruchel's live-action comedy, Astrid seems out of Hiccup's league, but she's open-minded enough to realize he's special -- just like this movie.
How to Train Your Dragon is actually worth the momentary headache that 3-D glasses can cause. It's spectacular, particularly when coupled with fire-breathing dragons flying around a colorful fictional island. The detailed animation on the Vikings (who are inexplicably depicted as more Scottish than Scandinavian, perhaps because Butler and Craig Ferguson, who's the dragon-training teacher, have such great accents) and the dragons (so many different kinds, all with their own quirks and strengths) is on par with Pixar -- the standard-bearer of animation.