How to Train Your Dragon

A dragon will always, always go for the kill.

This is the Isle of Berk, home of some Vikings.  They are led by Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) a bulky dragon-killing warrior.  His son, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), hasn’t inherited many (or any) of his old man’s attributes.  He’s weak, brainy, and a bit sensitive.  Instead, he works in the smithy with Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson).  During the opening battle/dragon raid, Hiccup pulls out one of his contraptions and pulls down the most mysterious dragon kind of known and nobody believes him.  When he comes face to face with the dragon, he can’t bring himself to kill it and sets it free.  He then has to start up his dragon-killing training (with the regular kids, including hottie, Astrid (America Ferrera)).  Well, as he becomes better acquainted with Toothless, his pet dragon, he finds that his Viking brethren don’t really understand the dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is a (rather loose) adaptation of the book of the same name (published in 2003).  I’ve not read it.  I imagine it’s quite nice.  Apparently, the central story is completely different.  Just thought you’d like to know.

It’s a really good story.  It’s not completely outside our experience as the would-be killer changes their views about the enemy once they actually meet one.  But that totally works in the hands of people who know when to play the right music, which these people seem to do.

That’s not quite fair to How to Train Your Dragon because the movie actually performs the task much better than most.  In a movie like Avatar (2009), the main character runs around with the “enemy” for a bit and then comes to love them.  In this movie, Hiccup’s inquisitiveness and sensitivity is what brings him closer to the dragon(s) and that takes time.

He slowly learns about Toothless (crap name, by the way) and applies those lessons one at a time.  He grows in confidence and becomes his own man.  It’s very well done and it makes this movie well worth the time.

Now I’ll get into slagging it off.

A little too preoccupied with giving us a RPG-style description of the dozens of dragons they’ve got.  If you don’t know role-playing games, I’m guessing the “level 5 shield” was complete nonsense to you.  I liked some of the latter, but not so much of the former.  Am I supposed to remember all of these kinds of dragons?  Is that going to be important?  No?  Then chill.

It cuts both ways, of course, because Hiccup’s learning about the dragons helps him to deal non-lethally with the dragons.  We need to understand both the dragons and the Vikings’ views of them to make sense of things.  So, there’s a balance to be set here, but they probably could have done it more elegantly.  Much less at the very start, for one thing.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the animation style.  The humans look like Bratz while the dragons seem to be inspired by Puff.  Obviously, this is a kids movie primarily, so there’s no reason to expect Beowulf (2007), and a good thing too, but they could have added some texture.  It keeps things playful.

The playfulness, though, is also a bit of a problem.  They talk about killing dragons (thousands in fact), but we never see them do it.  Of course we don’t, that would break up the BAM, SMASH comic fighting with too much reality.  And yet, when they’ve got to [Spoiler] the [Spoiler] [Spoiler], when it comes time to finish it, they’ve got to change gears on that theme.

Another time, during dragon slayer training, Hiccup seems to come within an inch of being blasted to death.  But that fire gets completely absorbed by the shield and nobody gets hurt.  I’m saying there’s some mixed messages there.  When should we get nervous?

I’m not sure what a director does in these kinds of films, but Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders directed.  They also wrote along with William Davies.  For writing credits, it went both ways, as I mentioned, but I’m willing to allow a little over-zealous exposition when it’s got well-paced development on the back end (at least as far as Hiccup is concerned).  Outside of Hiccup, characters are pretty functional, but that’s to be expected.

I’d put the voice acting at about par.  They weren’t asked to get very deep, but they didn’t seem to try very hard.

One of the few animated films that doesn’t rely on a relentless barrage of zingers, but relies entirely on its charming plot.  You’ve got to respect that.  Personally, I prefer a movie like Rango (2011) that gives you both, but I prefer How to Train Your Dragon to the one-liners-only movies that were the sequels to Shrek (2001).

For your 7-10 year old boys, this is definitely worth purchasing.  It’s a gamble otherwise.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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One Response to How to Train Your Dragon

  1. 2manybooks says:

    Great movie! Great review! Astrid (the hottie- tsk, tsk) might do well in your “strong, female character” category.

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