Can Man and Dragon peacefully coexist?
“How to Train your Dragon” is the latest digital animation movie from DreamWorks Animation studios (the same studio that produced the Shrek movies, “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Bee Movie”). The movie starts off with the narration of the main character, Hiccup (his name is explained in the movie), voiced by Jay Baruchel, describing his Viking hometown and the problems they have with dragons. The audience is thrust into an elaborate action sequence of dragons attacking Hiccup’s village. This opening scene does justice to the advancements in digital animation and explores some inventive camera shots of the action and its characters.
Young Hiccup wants to be a dragon fighter and have the chance to kill his first dragon. Why does he want to kill a dragon? It means he will be respected among his fellow Vikings. He has one big size issue though, considering the average Viking is four times his size, no one takes him seriously. Villagers ridicule his size often. He resorts to using his intelligence to solve his problems (it seems that for such a young mind he knows quite a bit about aerodynamic engineering). One of his inventions takes down a dreaded night fury dragon. Yet no one believes Hiccup is worthy of being a dragon slayer.
The movie moves along smoothly with more being revealed about Hiccup and his situation. Turns out the head of village is also his dad, Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler. Here is the setup of the traditional kids’ movie story line where the child tries to prove himself to his father and/or mother. And yes, we have seen it before and the story is pretty formulaic, but this story does have emotion and well-written dialogue to keep the audience’s interest.
Hiccup ventures into the woods to find and slay the dragon he had taken down earlier only to find that he cannot kill the dragon. He eventually befriends the beast and learns the traits of the dragon species. There is a humorous and touching development between the boy and the dragon. Toothless (that’s Hiccup’s name for the new friend) has mood swings from a Clint Eastwood toughness to a Bambie-like curiosity and friendliness. The directors, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (both of “Mulan” and “Lilo and Stitch” fame), put it together to make this friendship work so it doesn’t come off too cheesy.
Stoick eventually enrolls Hiccup into a dragon slaying class in the village. In the class, fellow village adolescents learn the proper Viking way to kill different varieties of dragons. What develops is the conflict within Hiccup – should he kill the dragons or should he befriend them?
The imagery of the movie is outstanding. The art directors took their time and added the details in the background shots. The water and the fire caught my attention because those elements looked real. I also noticed the hair of the characters (I know I am nitpicking, but in a good way). Considering the era and primitive ways of the Vikings, I could see that their hair was chopped off with a knife. The villagers obviously didn’t have a village barber shop. They simply cut their hair with what was available to them. It’s a small detail I know, but little things like that made the movie feel realistic.
Should you see this movie? Yes, it’s a good kid’s movie with only a few hidden adult jokes. The action will keep it together and hold your interest until the end. The kids will like the different varieties of dragons and most likely relate to one of the adolescent characters. To paraphrase my 10-year-old daughter — it is a good family story that is funny and yet scary at times (she was referring to the action sequences, but in a good way). One more thing, I saw the movie in 2D and I still feel it was great. Try seeing it in its 3D format; it almost has to be better.