How To Train Your Dragon (2010) – Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois – Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and David Tennant.
Thoroughly and utterly charming, DreamWorks Animation’s HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is as perfect a popcorn movie for kids as you’re likely to find. Visually stunning and simply told, DRAGON is an extended examination on the idea that your parents are full of crap and that the key to happiness is to embrace who you are and run with it.
The plot is simple: for as long as anyone can remember, Vikings and dragons have been killing each other. Hiccup, the socially awkward, walking disaster teenaged son of the chief is determined to be a Viking Warrior, but when he gets his chance to kill a dragon, he can’t do it, so he frees the dragon, names it Toothless, and they become bestest pals, which leads to the kid understanding that dragons aren’t evil, they’re just misunderstood. Turns out there’s a Queen Bee of a dragon back at the nest that’s been forcing all of the dragons to bring her food, which is why they’ve been attacking the village. Hiccup tries to tell his dad, but his dad just wants to kill, so he forces Toothless to lead them to the nest, where Hiccup has to show up and save everyone’s buttocks.
It’s all rather predictable and yet the film presents it all with the right amount of sincerity and freshness that it completely works. Heck, Hiccup is even voiced by Jay Baruchel, who I consider to be the single most annoying actor currently working, and I didn’t mind.
The voice acting is great across the board, but Gerard Butler as Stoick, leader of the Vikings and dad to Hiccup, is particularly good. Butler totally embraces the idea that this is a cartoon and he can ham it up a bit, but he does it in the context of a very well-rounded character. As much as Butler turns up the bombast, he plays the quiet scenes equally as effectively and the result is that you believe (at the start) that his kid is infuriating to this single-parent and you believe (at the end) when he’s seen the error of his ways.
Hiccup is the star of the film, though, and Baruchel does a great job making Hiccup seem like a real kid going through real issues. Hiccup wants to be a Viking Warrior so he can take his place in the tribe and win his dad’s affections, but when he’s confronted with the reality of the fantasy he sees that the dragon is as scared as he is, and can’t kill him. His admission of his own fear is a wonderfully rendered scene, full of shame where there doesn’t need to be any. While not the equivalent of Huck Finn tearing himself to pieces over not ratting Jim out, it works along similar emotional lines. Hiccup is embarrassed by his mercy while really it’s that mercy that is his greatest strength.
I love the vibes this movie sends out about embracing who you are and living your own life instead of doing what’s expected of you by others. Physically weak, Hiccup develops an emotional strength through the bonds of friendship with Toothless and his growing romantic interest in the Voice of Ugly Betty.
What I like is that Hiccup doesn’t simply bond with Toothless because they’re stuck together, but Toothless’ injured tail allows Hiccup’s burgeoning scientific side to shine through as he creates (through trial and error) an effective mechanical replacement for the black dragon’s injured tail.
Just as important as the story is the look of the film. I hate kids’ movies that are drab and dreary and DRAGON doesn’t make that mistake. The colors are constantly shifting and changing and the pacing is spot on. This film moves fast, but not blindly, and as predictable as the plot might be, the film never feels tired, never feels like it’s giving you a scene just because you expect this to be the scene where Hiccup and Stoick fight. It always manages to feel like it’s paying an homage rather than simply being derivative (such as the scene where the Queen Bee dragon first emerges, which is right out of the asteroid field in Star Wars.)
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is a fantastic movie. I haven’t seen any of this year’s big money latest franchise installments of Toy Story and Shrek, but whether those films are amazing or tired, don’t let DRAGON go without a watch.