MOVIE REVIEW: How To Train Your Dragon

March 31, 2010

by Justin Phillips

On paper, “How to Train Your Dragon” has a very familiar storyline: an accident prone boy struggles to find his own place in the world, strives to find a way to gain his father’s admiration, stumbles awkwardly around the girl he has a crush on, discovers an odd hidden talent, finds a way to make everything work out.

It’s the type of premise for a movie which could be written off as unoriginal, but fortunately for Dreamworks Animation’s new release, the film manages to shed its common cartoon cookie cutter outline and create and place in the box office all its own.

With a star-studded roster of actors providing the character voices like “Knocked Up”‘s Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and “300”‘s Gerard Butler, the film has sound pedigree guaranteed for cinema success. Set in ancient Viking times where wars were commonplace and everyone participated in battle, Baruchel provides the voice for the movie’s lead character, Hiccup, a skinny, awkward, self-loathing free-thinker trying to find his place in a Viking community where girth is the norm and the entire community operates in a single mindset.

Stoic the Vast, Hiccup’s father ,voiced by Butler, is the epitome of all that was Viking. He is strong, assertive, a born leader and the father of a son who is not cut out for the Viking lifestyle.
The stark contrast between father and son, community and son, and basically everything Viking and son provides an entertaining sarcastic wittiness to the film reminiscent of the Shrek series (which, by the way, was also a Dreamworks production) but without the over-the-top physical comedy.

Visually, the film is above par. With an abundance of multi-colored, two-headed dragons flying from every corner of the screen, “How to Train Your Dragon” still manages to be unique in its countless settings.

Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders use the effects of shadows, overcast skies and fog-covered mountains to give the movie an interesting texture in terms of aesthetic pleasantries.

Not to mention, the film is in 3-D and with the quality of production Dreamworks put in creating the film’s settings, adding the 3-D element to it puts the film above and beyond it’s cartoon competition.

The relationships between the characters, from Hiccup and his dragon, Toothless, to the young boy and his father are all concrete and relatable. Despite the concept of dragons and a child being able to peacefully communicate with them, the film doesn’t stray too far from reality.

In the film, Hiccup accidentally captures a dragon, the Night Fury, which is really just the mythical animal embodiment of a fireball shooting stealth bomber. In the process, he learns he has a hidden skill of communicating with the monsters, and, in a Viking community where their sole intentions are to kill the elusive creatures, he realizes he cannot really be up front with his newfound talent. From there, the film evolves into an intriguing story where a genuine interest in the characters and their lives is constructed.

In a time in box office cinema where the new fad of 3-D movies will ultimately give rise to some utterly disappointing films, “How to Train Your Dragon” is a breath of fresh air. The characters are well defined and the scenery in the film is worth the price of admission. Just make sure to not write the film off as a story told too many times because in all honesty, it finds a way to be everything but.