Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon


Today Dreamworks releases How To Train Your Dragon on DVD and BluRay Disc. The release is highly anticipated due to the film’s underdog success. Its initial opening was a decent one, but its residual and viral attention has made it a hit despite being overshadowed by James Cameron’s Avatar. With 3-D becoming such a phenomenon, some films are going to rely too heavily on this appeal to snare viewers. I feel 3-D is especially effective in animation, where technicians have more control over color and light, which allows Dragon to fire on all cylinders.

How To Train Your Dragon opened strong but seemed to lag in an overly weak box office weekend, finishing just ahead of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine. The film may have suffered from Dreamworks’ lower than Pixar status because of the enormous success of Up (2009), which was released just a year before and took the film world by storm, becoming the first animated feature nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in the general category. But soon after a lull hit the box office due to lack of any real contenders, How To Train Your Dragon got a second wind via residual viewers, and returned to #1 five weeks later.

It’s taken a while for word to get around about how good this film really is, and I will dare to say it is quite possibly the best 3-D animated film ever made. That’s right, Toy Story, I said “best ever!” In the film, we follow the adventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (voiced by Jay Baruchel), a young Viking who lives in Berk, an isolated mountainside village in the center of dragon country. As Hiccup narrates, we learn about his village and his life. Berk is old and carries the tradition of fighting dragons through generations. The village is run by Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), who is aided by his man at arms, Gobber the Belch (voiced by Craig Ferguson). There’s a balance in the struggle between the villagers and the dragons that is maintained by the dragons’ need for food and the villagers’ traditions and customs. All villagers are expected to grow up to become dragon fighters; all except for Hiccup, who tries hard to find his place, but fails again and again at fighting dragons. There’s great tension between Hiccup and Stoick, who loves his son but has little faith he will live up to his heritage. During a battle, Hiccup manages to capture one of the most deadly dragons with a trap he makes using his ingenuity as an engineer.

Hiccup ventures into the forest to track his catch and finds a wounded dragon that he can’t bring himself to finish off. After he releases it, they bond, and he discovers that dragons can be perfectly tame and even loyal. As Hiccup nurses the dragon, which he calls “Toothless,” back to health, he learns a great deal about dragons; he brings this new knowledge with him to “dragon school.” Eventually, the villagers discover Hiccup’s secret and he is forced to confront his father, who is unwilling to accept that his village and the dragons can live in harmony. Stoick then decides that the dragons need to be wiped out for good and launches a massive attack on their home nest. However, a greater surprise awaits the attack party, and Hiccup and Toothless race to save both of their worlds.

The aerial battle scenes are excellent, mixing the speed and spectacle of WWII dogfights with a twist of the film’s own humor and personality. There is always a sense of real danger because people do get injured, but the violence is kept to a level suitable for most young children. The battle ends with Hiccup and Toothless uniting the village with its indigenous animals, with harmony being the catalyst for their shared prosperity.

This is a beautifully crafted film that pays close attention to detail in every part of its production. The dragon designs, even in the credits, all have a sense of style and substance. This film never tries to be something it’s not by being overly moralistic and preachy, like some Pixar films can be. It sticks to what does best, with lots of fun and adventure, yet still manages to tell a story of unity and understanding with ingenious simplicity. It’s a shame if you missed catching this film at the theater, especially if you missed seeing the 3-D version, but be sure you catch your dragon this time around on DVD; you won’t be disappointed.