…directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, written by Cressida Cowell and Dean DeBlois, starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, and America Ferrera. Man, did we enjoy How to Train Your Dragon! The kids were excited to see it after the ads and a preview at our last family movie night (Princess and the Frog), and the Dreamworks animation team did not disappoint.
The movie follows your basic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer plot, with misfit Viking, Hiccup, yearning to become a dragon-fighting warrior like his father. He’s not much for sword-and-axe play, but he is pretty clever with weapons design and invention, which allows him to shoot down one of the most fearsome dragons, the Night Fury, with a ballista-net contraption.
Hiccup steals into the woods to find the downed dragon, and he soon begins to suspect that the dragons are more than the mindless beasts the Vikings believe them to be. At the same time his father consents to allowing him to begin dragon-fighting school. As Hiccup learns more about and befriends the injured Night Fury dragon, he figures out how to ace the training. He also learns the dragons have good reason for their nighttime predations. But, of course, slaying dragons is what his father and the rest of his village are all about, so Hiccup is headed for a showdown.
Does this story seem familiar? Of course it does, but with How to Train Your Dragon, the strengths of good characterization, excellent pacing, the the visuals and setting, and a commitment to not playing to the stupid-factor set it apart from other recent family movies.
Hiccup (Baruchel) is easy to root for as the nerdy square peg, without being cutesy or annoying. While many of his teen peers are caricatures, they’re at least true to their personality traits and amusing in their interactions. The same can be said for Hiccup’s father Stoick (Butler) and teacher/trainer Gobber (Ferguson). And of course, the dragons take on definite personalities, like smart flame-belching animals – none moreso than Hiccup’s new friend, Toothless.
The pacing of scenes and plot points will keep even younger kids engaged, and the directors pack a lot into each an every scene. DeBlois and Sanders have worked on a number of other movies (Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, etc.) and know what they’re about. And, of course, with no cheesy musical numbers thrown in, this movie gets another thumbs up. The visuals are stunning. We’re sort of used to it with the continuing evolution of digital animation, but I really enjoyed the details of the Viking village and island, the flying sequences (which the kids loved), and the movements and physical personalities of the various types of dragons. We saw it in 3-D, and the effects were definitely more integrated and less of a novelty than some previous films.
Dragon also gets high marks for not going to the potty humor too often and not resorting to the kind of stupid jokes that populate so many kids’ movies. The characters are accessible enough that the emotional moments play out well without being maudlin. The music and score are very good also, with a sort of playful yet epic feel. So when you add it all together, this movie just does so many things right.
One aspect to note and/or question might be the fact that most of the adult Vikings speak with a pronounced Scottish brogue (Butler and Ferguson being most prominent, of course); while the kids talk like regular Americans. It didn’t really bother me but I definitely noticed. And of course I asked myself why these Vikings couldn’t talk with Norse accents, like Toki and Skwisgaar from Dethklok (or the Swedish Chef).
Yeah, yeah, I get it. Scottish accent: brawny noble appeal to Americans. Swedish/Norwegian accent: humorous bordering on silly. All apologies to the true Viking descendants.
As for the movie: How to Train Your Dragon gets the highest of marks on the Beemsville Family Viewing scale.