How to Train Your Dragon directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders:
From the people who have brought us “Shrek”, “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar” comes DreamWorks latest animated feature and it 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 genuinely 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.
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.
When you have enjoyed a film and then you hear that a sequel will be made it makes you cringe a little. The cringe is as a result of having suffered through many a poorly executed sequel and having it sour a little your view of the entire film series. While How to Train Your Dragon was not a ground shaker it did have its heart in the right place and was as a result an enjoyable watch. I took in Dean DeBlois’ (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon), a Canadian which made my hope that this was a good film double, film with my fingers crossed.
Five years have passed since Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel – Million Dollar Baby, This is the End) managed to bring peace between Vikings and dragons on the island of Berk. So much so that each Viking there now has a dragon to ride. Times are good in Berk so they spend a lot of their time taking part in dragon races. Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, End of Watch), Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill – Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street) and the rest of the young Vikings engage in the races.
Hiccup spends his time creating a map of the world. This irritates his father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler – 300, P.S. I Love You), who wants Hiccup to assume the leadership of Berk from him. Hiccup is not interested in this type of life, but doesn’t know how to tell his dad. While exploring the world aboard his beloved dragon Toothless Hiccup stumbles upon a dragon trapping outfit led by Eret (voiced by Kit Harington – from television’s Game of Thrones). Eret tells Hiccup and Astrid that he is capturing dragons to supply Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou – Gladiator, Blood Diamond), who is amassing a dragon army.
While trying to locate Drago in order to talk him out of his dastardly plan Hiccup stumbles upon the icy world of the mysterious and feared Dragon Rider (voiced by Cate Blanchett – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Blue Jasmine). It turns out that the Dragon Rider is someone from his past and is actually a protector of dragons. Together with his new ally Hiccup will try to talk Drago out of his plan without violence occurring. In this quest Hiccup is going to set out on the road that will lead to his discovering his lot in life.
My fingers uncrossed very early on. It did not take long for me to relax and realize that the second film in the series was just as good as the first. And maybe even a little better. This is what animated family films should be about. It is filled with feel good moments, action, suspense, laughs, and plenty of emotion. All this is made possible by the strong script co-written by DeBlois and Cressida Cowell. It is simple, but not dumb. It is emotional, but not sappy. It involves plenty of lessons for young viewers, but is not preachy. In other words, it has a solid base.
That base is well supported by the voice talent in the film. Besides the lead Baruchel, there is Ferrera, Blanchett, Butler, Hill, Hounsou (who possesses such a perfect “villain” voice that I wonder why he hasn’t been asked to do this before), Harington, Craig Ferguson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and T.J. Miller. All use their voices to convey the emotions of the story and flesh out their characters making them realistic.
What I really have to give props to the people behind the film for is the fact that they do not shy away from bringing tough stuff to the screen. Just because it is an animated film doesn’t mean it has to be aimed solely at the under 6 age group. Older kids enjoy animated films and they should be made for them as well. DeBlois does not shy away from dark moments in How to Train Your Dragon 2. It is definitely scarier than the first in sections. This is definitely a more mature film than the first.
Finally the animation is great. It is crisp, clear and colourful.
-Dawn of the Dragon Racers
-Fishlegs’ Dragon Stats
-Drago’s War Machines
-Berk’s Dragon World
-Hiccup’s Inventions in Flight
-Where No One Goes: The Making of How To Train Your Dragon 2
- Frozen Episode of DreamWorks’ Dragons: Defenders of Berk
- Book of Dragons
- The Ultimate Book of Dragons
- The Animators’ Corner
- Trivia Track
- Viking-Sized Cast
- How to Draw a Dragon
- The Story Behind the Story
- The Technical Artistry of Dragon
- Gobbler’s Training Secrets
- Filmmakers’ Commentary