Dean DeBlois's and Chris Sanders's How To Train Your Dragon
Here's the link to the published version of the review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
"How To Train Your Dragon" is another one of those stories of the unlikely hero who will end up saving the day when everything looks hopeless. We may have seen such a story before, several times before actually, but somehow the creative team behind this film still manages to make it feel fresh, while keeping us engaged in its plot.
Set on a small island, the film follows a tribe of Vikings who have to deal with the threat of constant dragon attacks. The tribe is lead by Stoick (Voice of Gerard Butler), a strong warrior who has seen many of these battles and has no doubt done his fair share of dragon-killing. His son, Hiccup (Voice of Jay Baruchel), is a young boy who seems nothing like his father. He is scrawny and always seems to be doing the opposite of what he's told.
During a dragon attack early in the film, Hiccup fires a weapon at a mysterious type of dragon that no one has ever seen. He swears he hit it, but can't convince anyone of it, so he decides to go looking for it. He eventually finds a small dragon, whose tail he has injured, causing it to be unable to fly. After earning the dragon's trust, they become good friends as Hiccup repairs his tail and even learns to fly on its back. Meanwhile, back at home, Hiccup is forced to undergo dragon training from the local expert, Gobber (Voice of Craig Ferguson), but after what he has gone through with his new friend, whom he names Toothless, he is forced to question everything he has been taught about dragons.
With "Dragon," we are treated to the same high-level, quality animation that we have come to expect from the same studio that brought us the "Shrek" films. The characters and their environments are richly textured in every detail. The animators really get to show off during several sequences when Hiccup is learning how to fly Toothless. We see the same breathtaking sights that Hiccup is seeing, and are equally stunned.
The animation really helps bring these characters to life, but so do the great voice-actors. Gerard Butler does a terrific job as Stoick, which is not surprising. Butler has already played King Leonidas, leader of the Spartan warriors, so this is not much of a stretch for him. Jay Baruchel also does a good job as Hiccup, bringing a lot of emotion to a character whose path is well-known to the audience, yet still making us care about what happens to him.
One of the big surprises was hearing late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson voice the character of Gobber. For my money, he's the best host in late night at the moment, but to hear him voice a character and do an excellent job with it was quite a surprise given how goofy and chaotic his comedy can be.
The most touching parts of the film come as Hiccup is bonding with Toothless. At first, as expected, there is apprehension on both sides. Hiccup must think that the dragon would want to hurt him for injuring him in the first place, but in his determination, Hiccup keeps trying to reach out to him. When they do finally make contact, it is quite a special moment.
This all leads to the big battle at the end of the film where we know what will happen, just not quite how it will happen. Here, we are treated to more of the dazzling visuals as good dragons fight an evil dragon by swooping and soaring through the air several times, shooting fire at each other, and yet, despite the two big battles, the film is not really violent at all.
Its level of humor doesn't try to pander to both kids and adults, but is instead a general kind of humor that most people will find amusing. Kids will enjoy the film based solely on its entertainment value whereas older viewers will be able to enjoy it not only on that level, but on an emotional one as well, making "Dragon" a film that everyone can enjoy. 3/4 stars.
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