Title: How To Train Your Dragon (2010) (IMDb)
Company: DreamWorks Animation
Director: Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders
Voice Actors: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), America Ferrera (Astrid), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), David Tennant (Spitelout)
Score Composer: John Powell
Length: 98 minutes
Rating (US): “Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.”
Spoiler-free Synopsis: “A hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons becomes the unlikely friend of a young dragon himself, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed.” (IMDb)
Reason for Watching: It’s about dragons and I had heard some trusted people call it one of the best animated movies in recent years.
Movie Re-watchability: Sure I could watch it again, perhaps with kids who like it or with someone who hasn’t seen it before, but I wouldn’t seek it out.
Director Re-watchability: Deblois and Sanders, aside from being frequent writers for Disney, together directed 2002’s Lilo & Stitch. As I remember, that was a really fun and inventive little film with a lively artistic style and some believable and touching characters. While How To Train Your Dragon isn’t quite so inventive, it still has many of those positive traits. These two men might not be masters at the Pixar level, but they do have a nice storytelling touch, and I’d be interested to see what future projects they work on.
Recommendation: This is a fun movie. Not spectacular or exceptionally moving, but lively and kind of sweet. Those interested in kids’ movies and animation are most likely to enjoy it.
My favorite aspect of How To Train Your Dragon—and the only thing to keep my interest for repeated viewings—is the main dragon himself, ignominiously named Toothless by our young Viking hero (himself ignominiously named Hiccup). While most of the other dragons are designed to be fairly goofy and stylized, Toothless looks slightly more real and moves with something approaching actual weight. He still is overly rounded and cartoonish, but the animators have envisioned him as an actual character, not just a mere monster, pet, or animal comic-relief as every other dragon is. He does provide the movie’s funniest and most touching moments, but is also allowed a considerable degree of pathos. He is also, I was pleased to see, allowed to be genuinely dangerous and wild. The flight scenes are exciting and also seem to play by the rules of gravity and physics, with some understandable adjustments to allow for more action and less falling-to-one’s-death.
The landscapes are quite beautiful, having an element of realism not present in the design of the humans. My favorite is the Scandinavian forest where Hiccup finds and trains Toothless. Mist is used to give depth to the layers of trees, and the colors are only slightly exaggerated. There is some very good composition going on with the colors and lighting, and a few scenes even manage a genuinely epic look.
The designs of the human characters are not my favorite, but the voice acting is generally excellent, the standouts being Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson. Ferguson should really do more voice acting in kids’ films like this, because it’s so nice to see his comedic talent applied to something family friendly. Unfortunately, the only voice I did not like was that of Jay Baruchel as Hiccup himself, our hero. It was just too whiny and nasally, and seemed a bit too old for the teenage character (Baruchel was about 27 when he did the voice). Every time Hiccup opened his mouth, which was frequently, I winced. In Baruchel’s defense, he does a good job bringing sardonic wit and a basic level of emotional depth to the character; I just think he was miscast.
The story itself was blander and more straightforward than I had hoped. Overly-choreographed action sequences are sprinkled throughout in a way that makes me question the place of such extended, stylized violence in kids’ movies (Kung Fu Panda, a movie I really like, also provokes this question). And the other teenage characters, while competently voiced, are also the usual procession of high school movie clichés that I am tired of. It’s nothing horrible, but for me it robs the movie of much interest. The only character I care about is Toothless. And maybe Gobber, because Ferguson manages to hint at some depth and maturity for the hilarious Viking blacksmith. I will give one high compliment to the story, though: the decision to let Hiccup lose his leg at the end is a very good one. It gives a little weight to the proceedings because, though he is victorious, he does not come out unscathed. This was the only story point that impressed me.
In a time when dreck like Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Alvin and the Chipmunks get sequels, we should be glad for a movie like How To Train Your Dragon. I wouldn’t call it a classic, but it’s a fun, solid kids’ adventure movie with several elements that are a cut above average.