Monday, April 5, 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon *** ½
Directed by:
Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders.
Written By: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders based on the book by Cressida Cowell.
Starring: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup), Gerard Butler (Stoick), Craig Ferguson (Gobber), America Ferrera (Astrid), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut), Robin Atkin Downes (Ack), Philip McGrade (Starkard ), Kieron Elliott (Hoark the Haggard), Ashley Jensen (Phlegma the Fierce).

How to Train Your Dragon is a terrific animated adventure that everyone is going to love. I have found that a lot of recent kids films seem to split the audience – either they are completely juvenile and focus on toilet humor and pratfalls, which the kids love, or they try so hard to appeal to parents, that they forget that the kids are the real target audience for the film. So the kids love it, and the parents hate it, or vice versa. How to Train Your Dragon is that rare kids films that is going to please everyone.

Jay Baruchel gives an excellent vocal performance as Hiccup, a young Viking and son to the tribal leader Stoick (Geard Butler) who is a source of constant ridicule and disappointment. He isn’t as strong or as tough as the other Vikings. He is more intelligent and sensitive. Their village has lasted for generations, despite the problem that dragons live nearby and occasionally attack the village. Every Viking needs to go through Dragon training to learn how to defend themselves – but Hiccup appears to be at the bottom of his class – much to his chagrin, as he is in love with Astrid (America Ferrera), who is at the top. But Hiccup has a secret. He has created a machine that launches a net to catch dragons, and to his dismay it has actually worked, although no one will believe him. He fires it off and catches a famed Night Fury dragon, but when he walks out into the forest to finish the dragon off, he cannot bring himself to do it. The dragon is as scared of him as he is of it. So he releases the dragon, but he has an injured tail, and cannot fly. Hiccup goes to see him again and again, bringing food, and different things to try and help him fly. The two bond. But when Hiccup’s secret gets out, he knows there will be hell to pay.

The film was directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, who also made Disney’s Lilo & Stitch a few years ago. Like that film, this one is visually inventive, and very well animated. The different types of dragons – and there are a lot of them – are all unique and creative. They start off appearing scary, but as the movie goes along, they become big softies – particularly the Night Fury, which Hiccup names Toothless, who is very much like a lovable dog. The human characters are just as well animated, and are brought to life by wonderful voice actors – not only Baruchel, Ferrara and Butler (who has, in my mind, never been better) but also by Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, TJ Miller and Kristen Wiig. Pleasantly enough, none of these actors try and make the movie about their voice work – but just do solid work in support of the movie, and the result is wonderful entertainment.

How to Train Your Dragon will please children, who will like all the visual excitement on the screen – especially the breathtaking action sequences that are expertly handled, without becoming too scary. Adults will probably enjoy the clever screenplay more – it is filled with wonderful one liners. Both will enjoy the story, which is exciting, yet emotional. This is that rare kids film that I would have no problem recommending to anyone – regardless of whether or not they have children.

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