From the people who have brought us "Shrek", "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar" comes DreamWorks latest animated feature is a tale of Vikings and dragons. Sounds exciting doesn't it? Well, while there are some humourous and exciting flying/action sequences what really was at the heart of the film was the story of a young boy and his relationship with his father and trying to figure out his path in life. Basically a coming-of-age film. Meaning it was more touching than I thought it would be. I thought I was there primarily to laugh, but found myself moved on several occasions. At several points in the film I had to admit to having some water in my eyes. If you catch my drift.
Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, "How to Train Your Dragon" is the story of Hiccup (voiced by Montrealer Jay Baruchel), a teenage Viking, who has always dreamed of being a great dragon slayer like his father, Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler). Things don't work out that way for Hiccup and he doesn't really fit in with the rest of his village. In order to keep his clumsy son safe his father keeps Hiccup working with the village's one armed, one legged weapon maker (voiced by Craig Ferguson). This doesn't make Hiccup very happy. Or popular.
During one particular dragon attack, Hiccup manages to slip out and using a weapon believes he has struck the most elusive type of dragon, the Night Fury. Before he can go investigate he is dragged back to the village by his father, who doesn't believe a word he has said. The next day he is able to sneak out of the village again and discovers an injured dragon downed with his weapon. Realizing this is his chance to gain some respect and notoriety in the village, Hiccup tries to kill the helpless dragon, but finds that he cannot.
After some trepidation and leeriness on the part of the dragon the two begin to trust one another and Hiccup even names the dragon Toothless. Hiccup realizes the dragon cannot fly because of the damage to one of its rear rudders. Being an inventor of sorts, Hiccup is able to fashion a device in order to replace it. This allows boy and dragon to fly together.
All this experience, which he keeps secret from everyone, allows Hiccup to have the upperhand on all the other kids in dragon slaying class and gives him insight into the fact that dragons are not the killing machines that every other Viking thinks they are. They only slay things to bring back to the giant dragon in their nest. The same nest that his father is searching for to destroy. You know there is going to be some conflict down the road.
This is a film that is great for the entire family (except for the most sensitive of types) no matter the age. While it is a crowd pleaser, it is not your usual animated fair with its character development and emotional complexity. This is a smart film filled with plenty of imagination. At certain points when the Vikings were spewing their stuff about the dragons, which they had little to no real information about, you had to wonder if it was alluding to what governments in the so-called developed countries today are saying about Arab/Muslim societies. The film really hits home that it is silly to fear what you don't know.
Don't go into this thinking that the animation will be as beautiful as something coming out of the Pixar stable as you'll only disappointed yourself. Though I don't want to make it seem like the animation is subpar as it is a film that really focuses on the little things visually. Pay attention to the shadowing, the flicker of flame and the hair on the characters arms to understand what I am getting at. Also there are a variety of dragon species that are wonderfully drawn. Each one looks completely different and wonderful.
The film is also available in 3D.