On our Year of the Dragon tribute reviews, we just caught the delightful 2010 DreamWorks Animation feature “How to Train Your Dragon.”
Based on a 2003 children’s story by the same name, this 3D computer animated film is less dependent on your knowledge of current events and fairy tales like “Shrek,” and less determined to be hip and slapstick like “Madagascar” or “Kung Fu Panda.”
Set in a mythical Viking village, our protagonist, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Jay Baruchel), is the son of the Viking leader, a big brawny man named Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Hiccup is a slip of a boy, who is an inventor and dreamer. When the dragons stage another raid, stealing the villagers’ livestock and burning down the buildings, Hiccup uses one of his contraptions to shoot a dragon. But it was night, and no one actually saw him do it. He later, calculates where that dragon might have fallen and finds it in the forest, but is unable to slay the crippled dragon, a Night Fury, a kind of dragon that no one has seen and survived to describe. Instead, he befriends him and calls him “Toothless.”
Stoick gathers the men of the village and they set sail in an attempt to find the nest where the dragons roost. He leaves Hiccup in the care of the village blacksmith, Gobber (Craig Ferguson), whose battles with dragons has left him with an artificial metal hand and an artificial metal leg. Gobber is also the instructor who teaches the young Vikings how to kill dragons. Hiccup is enrolled along with a five other students: the hilarious fighting fraternal twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), the all-brawn-no-brains Snotlout (Jonah Hill), the tubby slightly dim but good-humored Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Astrid (America Ferrera), the feisty girl whom Hiccup has a crush on.
The movie doesn’t make Snotlout the big meanie he could be although he is also interested in Astrid. He and the other kids have little faith in Hiccup’s ability, but are astonished at Hiccup’s growing knowledge of dragons. Astrid soon discovers Hiccup’s secret, but so does the rest of the village. Toothless is captured and used to guide the men, led by Stoick, to the dragons’ nest.
Writers Will Davies, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders give us a hero who is scared, but brave, thoughtful yet willing to take risks. The screenplay doesn’t depend upon the mean kids to build tension and differs from the book (where the whole village was training dragons). There are thrilling flying scenes, battles between dragons and people and dragons and dragons. Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders keep the action thrilling, but also give up humorous moments throughout that in no way hurts the pacing.
Haven’t we had enough bullying even if the nerds win? We aren’t asked to take sides, the dragons aren’t anthropomorphized into talking, joking sidekicks, and the happy ending is bittersweet. “How to Train Your Dragon” is inventive family entertainment which encourages kindness to animals and all kinds of people, not matter how big, small, intelligent or differently-enabled.
I look forward to “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and although I haven’t read the books, feel that after reading the Wikipedia description the movie might be better than the book.