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“How To Train Your Dragon" - (Chris)
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Dreamworks
Genre:
Family
Release Date:
10/15/10
Special Features:

See Below

Review:

In the tradition of some of our better animated films, "How to Train Your Dragon" establishes a thoroughly engaging friendship between a boy and an animal -- so engaging that we do in fact hurt when it appears that one or both is in grave danger. Animated films have always had that kind of power over audiences, maybe because an animal gives the filmmaker the perfect opportunity to convey emotions at their most fundamental. When they're happy, they're completely happy. When they're sad, they're completely sad. When they suffer, they express themselves so clearly that we suffer right along with them. It matters not that, in this case, the animal is a dragon, which doesn't exist; in the world of an animated film, entertainment tends to take precedence over reality.***

The boy is a Viking teenager named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), an outcast amongst his people for being too short, too skinny, too clumsy, and too nonviolent in a village where dragon slaying is practically a religion. He thinks he wants nothing more than to be a mighty warrior, and for a good portion of time, he tries to get by in training, in which he's pitted against caged dragons in an arena of sorts. But after injuring and ensnaring a dragon all on his own -- an elusive and (supposedly) lethal kind, classified as Night Fury -- he finds he doesn't have the heart to kill it. He then befriends it, humorously dubbing it Toothless, and quickly realizes that his people have it all wrong: Dragons are not evil beasts that must be destroyed, but merely frightened creatures who are provoked into violence.***

Toothless, who hides in a clearing beyond a waterfall, is large, graceful, majestic, and ever so slightly cute. This is good, not only for the children in the audience, but also because we need to care for him just as much as Hiccup does. And speaking of Hiccup, he's now faced with the task of leading a double life. To everyone else, including his crotchety trainer Gobber the Belch (voiced by Craig Ferguson), he seems to have transformed himself from a village disgrace into one of the best dragon fighters the people have ever seen. This doesn't sit too well with the tough, athletic, determined Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), Hiccup's secret crush; she becomes increasingly suspicious of him, especially since his methods of subduing the dragons are not exactly what one would call violent.***

Matters are further complicated by Hiccup's father, the brawny Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), who up until now has always been disappointed in his son. Unfortunately, he has become proud for all the wrong reasons. He has yet to find out about Toothless, and he still doesn't understand that Hiccup has absolutely no intention of ever killing a dragon in battle. It's a classic case of the reluctant parent struggling to understand his child, of never listening to the child when he's trying to say something he feels is important.***

Indeed, the general plot is a classic case, relying on themes of friendship, acceptance, and courage to get its point across. But what this movie lacks in original ideas it more than makes up for in heart, humor, and sheer visual spectacle, made stronger by its presentation in 3-D. Some of the film's most impressive scenes involve Hiccup riding on Toothless' back as he soars triumphantly above clouds, through craggy peaks, and over the sea; they're not merely stunning examples of camerawork and computer imagery, they're also exhilarating. And yes, there are a number of frenetic battle scenes, especially in the latter half of the film, at which point the Vikings are pitted against a monstrosity the likes of which no one has ever seen.***

All this is in good fun. But for my money, the strongest element of "How to Train Your Dragon" was the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, who against all odds became the best of friends. There is nothing here we haven't seen before, but can you honestly say you weren't touched at some level? The moment when Toothless is finally trusting enough to butt his head against Hiccup's hand made my heart glad. Maybe I'm too sentimental, but there you have it. There are also some genuinely funny moments involving Hiccup's attempts to feed Toothless, one of them ending in a less than appetizing way.***

One could easily fault the minor details. Could any Viking, however muscular and well armed, physically defeat a gigantic winged reptile capable of breathing fire? Could anyone keep a large, noisy dragon a secret for as long as Hiccup did? Would no one have discovered the secret dragon nest long ago? If you think these questions are worth asking, you'd probably be better off seeing a different movie.

Special Features:

How to Train Your Dragon Blu-ray/DVD Combo disc features: • The Animators’ Corner (BD Exclusive) • Trivia Track (BD Exclusive) • Filmmakers’ Commentary • The Technical Artistry of Dragon • Viking-Sized Cast • Deleted Scenes • DWA Trailers • The Story Behind the Story • Racing for the Gold • How to Draw a Dragon • Your Viking Profile • DWA Video Jukebox • BD-Live – “Making The Story” – Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois take fans behind-the-scenes for a fun and in-depth look at the two year process of making the smash hit

Final Words:

"How to Train Your Dragon," adapted from Cressida Cowell's book, is terrific family entertainment -- fun, heartfelt, and a pleasure to look at. Its greatest achievement is its ability to resonate emotionally, something all stories about unlikely friendships need in order to work. Without it, you'd have nothing more than a mindless action piece, with plenty to see but little to identify with.***

 

 
 
 
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