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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

* * * *

Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

Coming to this party way late but, damn, How to Train Your Dragon is a really good movie. Like, seriously: it's really, really good. I know that Toy Story 3 was the animated movie of 2010, but I'd say that if Dragon isn't quite its equal, it falls short by only a hair.

Set in a land where dragons are a plague to livestock and livelihoods, and where Vikings are Scottish, How to Train Your Dragon centers on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of the village Chieftan (Gerard Butler). Though he longs to be a Viking and get to be where the action is, Hiccup has more intellect than brawn and doesn't quite live up to expectations of a Chieftan's son. His intellect does, however, allow him to construct a contraption that he uses to shoot down a dragon, though when he locates the wounded beast in the woods, he can't bring himself to kill it. Instead he befriends it and builds it a prosthetic tail so that it will be able to fly again.

When he's not spending time with the dragon, whom he names Toothless, Hiccup is in dragon-killing classes with other children from the island, including Astrid (America Ferrera), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), and twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut (T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig). At first Hiccup is the odd man out, due to his lack of athletic ability, but thanks to what he learns about dragons via Toothless, he's able to tame the dragons used at the school and gain the adulation of his fellow students, with the exception of Astrid, who was previously the school's best student. Her jealousy eventually leads to her finding out about Toothless and not long after the entire island finds out, leading Hiccup's father to capture Toothless and use him to find the dragons' nest so that he and his fellow Vikings can destroy it and rid the island of dragons.

Adapted from a book by Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon takes the standard adventure/coming of age formula and breathes new life into it. The story finds a nice balance between the quieter, character-building sequences and the exciting action sequences, and makes Hiccup an eminently rootable protagonist. Thanks to the story's close attention to developing the character and Baruchel's voice work, Hiccup is as charming and likeable as the film itself, which is of course crucial to a story that like this one, where his is the only character that's given any real dimension.

Although How to Train Your Dragon keeps things simple in a lot of ways (as most animated films do by necessity), its simplicity isn't in any way a weakness. I don't generally tend to be big on animated films, but I fell in love with this one pretty much instantly and wish I'd seen it in the theater because the animation is so beautiful. 2014 and the sequel can't come soon enough.


Dan O. said...

Good review Norma. The story was pretty generic but still packed an emotional-wallop that worked and kept me involved in it, especially when those visuals would pop-up and really take me by surprise.

Ju-osh said...

Great review! I also came late to this film, and wish I'd had the chance to see it on the big screen.

Seeing as how you adored HTTYD, you should do yourself a solid by going back and watching the directors' previous film, Lilo & Stitch. It has the same blending of sweet sentiment with quirky comedy as HTTYD, and as gorgeous as HTTYD's CGI is, the watercolor backgrounds and hand drawn animation in L&S is equally amazing.