He’s a scrawny, inventive, enthusiastic young kid. He means well. He’s smart. His heart is in the right place. The one thing he’s not…
…is a Viking.
That’s not an issue for most kids, but Hiccup is the son of Stoick the Vast, Chief of all the Vikings in their village, isolated on an island in a land far, far away. The town is routinely attacked by dragons that steal the sheep and burn the houses down. The Vikings retaliate with catapults and axes, and when it’s all over, rebuild and prepare for the next round.
The dragons are far from uniform. The Deadly Nadder is a bright blue beast that likes to attack in packs. The Gronckle is a strange mix of English Bulldog and hummingbird. The Monstrous Nightmare has a wingspan that could cover an entire longboat. The Hideous Zippleback has not one, but two heads from which to spew gas and fire. The most elusive of all, however, is the mysterious Night Fury. It is never seen, strikes at the last moment, and it never misses.
This swarm of foul beasts is attacking the village when Hiccup, apprentice to the town blacksmith, Gobber, insists he can help. He races to the peak of the closest hill, fires his cannon and actually strikes the Night Fury. However, his attack catches the attention of a Monstrous Nightmare, and turns the tide in the dragons’ favor. In the aftermath, all the Vikings are left with is another messy cleanup, little food for winter, and the latest in a long list of Hiccup’s failed attempts to assist.
Hiccup is enrolled in Viking training as Stoick takes a band of brave men to try and locate the dragons’ nest. When he sees a break, Hiccup heads into the forest to track the Night Fury. Not believing his luck, he finds the downed dragon, but doesn’t have the heart to kill the wounded beast. Instead, he sets it free, and it spares his life.
While hearing lesson after lesson about how horrible the creatures are, Hiccup also studies and attempts to meet the Night Fury. He learns more from that beast about dragons, Vikings, and himself than anyone thought possible. The result is a magical journey that centers on the shared love between a misfit boy and a one-of-a-king dragon.
How to Train Your Dragon is a mind-blowing visual experience in IMAX 3D. Viewers will feel immersed in every visual aspect from flowing water, falling ash, cloudy sunsets and fire…so much fire…. DreamWorks animation studio finds a perfect mix between cartoon characters and realistic surroundings. Animating moving water took a step ahead in Disney Pixar’s The Incredibles. It takes a leap forward in Dragon.
The film is adapted from Cressida Cowell’s novel of the same name, which will lead many reviews to point out comparisons and contrasts. Instead, I found myself drawing similarities to another book-turned-film that I enjoyed, Sony’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Both films feature a misfit inventor with a heart of gold. Hiccup is the Scandinavian Flint Lockwood; destined to fail many times, and to change the world when the time is right.
Jay Baruchel (Just Legal, Tropic Thunder) is a great Hiccup. He’s not whiny, and his heart is always in the right place. He’s the instant underdog turned hero who viewers will love. Gerard Butler turns on the anger, the pride and the pity as Stoick. (Wow, is this guy fleshing out his resume’ nicely with films like Dragon and Bounty Hunter to balance out Gamer, 300 and the Escape from New York remake.) Ugly Betty’s America Fererra is a nice counterpoint as Hiccup’s love interest, Astrid.
Dragon is a fun family view, with plenty of bumps, spills and jokes along the way (and did I mention fire?) Little ones may be scared by the mere scope of the big bad guy, but wow does it work in this film. An extra nod of respect goes to the film’s official site for its vast amount of content on dragons, Vikings, games, characters, downloads and more. Check it out http://www.howtotrainyourdragon.com/.