At first you might think that you’ve wandered into another one of Dreamworks’ interchangeable animated films. ‘How to Train Your Dragon’
features all the staples that keep even the studio’s best efforts consistently inferior to just about every film Pixar releases.
You’ve got the over-reliance on action, the cheesy, occasionally irritating, period inappropriate humor, and the rapid fire pacing to make
sure the kiddies don’t lose interest. But despite the presence of all these, the film rises well above the pack.
Taking place on the Viking island of Berk, we follow the story of the scrawny and out of place Hiccup. He yearns to be a great hero who
slays the dragons that constantly wreak havoc on the island. Nobody takes him seriously, and his father is embarrassed and disappointed
by him. Voiced by Jay Baruchel, Hiccup is a nasally and irritating presence, at least until the film grows a heart.
Hiccup brings down a legendary dragon known as the Night Fury, but is unable to bring himself to kill the defeated beast. And, in the
cinematic tradition, begins to learn and empathize with the Night Fury, dubbed Toothless.
This is a tried and true narrative device about a boy and his beloved pet, but directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders handle the
interactions between the two beautifully.
The injured Toothless, who can no longer fly, and the rejected Hiccup form a bond and these are some of the finest sequences in the film.
We now care.
When Hiccup fashions a device to help Toothless fly, their first flight is stunningly majestic and affecting. It’s just the first of the many
thrilling sequences to come.
And one can’t discount the effectiveness of John Powell’s score here. This is an absolutely phenomenal work that elevates every single
sequence to its full glory and potential.
I also loved the design and animation of Toothless. He is an absolutely adorable creature that seems to have more in common with a giant
cat than a reptile. The superb animation, and not the screenplay, brings this character to life.
As you expect, his love of a dragon creates a bit of a conflict with his Viking heritage, and that is handled very effectively as the film
reaches its soaring climax.
It really is a shame that the screenplay isn’t a tad better, because it could have been a true classic. It has all the elements, but is held back
for all the reasons mentioned above. The film should have taken itself more seriously by toning down some of the irritating banter between
the comedic characters. The film should have been all about the boy and his dragon, and not worry about mixing in some unnecessary bits
with Hiccup’s father searching for the dragon’s nest.
But when ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ reaches its’ height, it truly does soar. And all minor flaws aside, it’s an extremely effective, heartfelt
film with all the majesty and spectacle you could hope for. It is highly recommended.
* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Written by: William Davies and Dean DeBlois and Chris
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson,
America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
Music by: John Powell
Released: March 26, 2010; 98 Minutes