There may be more to seemingly vicious creatures than what folklore claims. That is what one young Viking learns for himself and goes against tradition in the adventurous animated feature How to Train Your Dragon.
The inventor Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Voiced by Jay Baruchel) dreams of slaying the dragons that raid the island of Berk, much like the rest of his peers. But seeing no potential in his weak, klutzy son, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) refuses to let Hiccup fight in the war. To prove that he is indeed “manly,” strong, and capable of battling the creatures, Hiccup sets out to come back to the village with the head of a dragon. When he comes across one in isolation, he realizes that he simply can’t kill it, both out of his frightened mind and the kindness of his heart. Instead, he starts to befriend the dragon, naming the creature “Toothless,” which leads Hiccup to treat the other dragons on the training grounds gently. However, this suddenly sweet treatment does not bide well with Hiccup’s peers and his father, and both man and dragon must fight more within their own groups to prove the others’ worth before they must co-exist, if they could. The all-star voice cast also includes the talents of Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig.
A family-friendly colonial tale that reminds of stories told in Pocahontas and Avatar, about living in harmony with others yet with the primitive desire to civilize those others, How to Train Your Dragon is a rather dark and sometimes emotional saga masked by whimsicality. For what it is on the surface—a fun and action-driven animated feature—it sometimes moves slow and feels flat. However, the developing friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is admirable and gives us reason to root for both of them until the end, with hope that the village can somehow tolerate the dragons for the sake of one heroic and open-minded young man and the perceived enemy he befriends. Aesthetically, the film’s cinematography and score makes it a beauty. The action sequences are excellent, and the ferocity of the dragons during a couple of scenes can make even a few adults jump in their seats. The laughs the film will provide are pretty good, but nothing above. However, despite the dark cloud hanging over, there is also much to be sentimental about, such as seeing that Toothless can be rather adorable when he’s quiet.
Although not along the lines of other animated films in the past year in terms of the degrees of comedy, drama, and action wrapped up in one and superior sense of story development, How to Train Your Dragon is a well-made and well-executed thrill ride with a whole lot of heart behind it. Much fun, and possibly lessons learned about the world and the diverse kinds of people and creatures around us, will certainly be had and appreciated by many.
OVERALL SCORE: 7.5/10