Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"How to Train Your Dragon" (2010)

Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and America Ferreira
Written by Adam Goldberg, Peter Tolan, Dean DeBois and Chris Sanders
Directed by Dean DeBois and Chris Sanders
Rated PG - Action, scary images, language
Running Time: 98 minutes

How to Train Your Dragon Blu Ray (Single Disc Blu-Ray 2010)Another fine animated attempt from Dreamworks, who are slowly making a name for themselves alongside Pixar as CG animation kings.  "How to Train Your Dragon" is an adaptation of the series of children's books by Cressida Crowell.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) lives in the Viking village of Berk, son of the Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), a great warrior.  But Hiccup is a small weakling, a disappointment both to his father and to the other townspeople.  The town is constantly besieged by dragons, which attack in the night and steal food.  Hiccup, despite his size and nerdly demeanor, wants desperately to be a great dragonslayer like his father.  He creates machines and cannons to help him, but his efforts are derided by the population.

One night, one of his devices actually succeeds in wounding a dragon called a Night Fury - a dragon capable of incredible speed and stealth due to its black skin, and its ability to shoot fire missiles from its throat.  But Hiccup finds that he's incapable of killing the wounded creature when he sees that it is afraid of him as he is of it.  Instead, he decides to (secretly) nurse it back to health.  Meanwhile, his father takes a band of Vikings to hunt down the dragons' nest and deal with them once and for all.  In his absence, he decides that Hiccup will undergo training under the tutelage of Gobber (Craig Ferguson).

Hiccup joins a group of youths about his age including Astrid (America Ferreira), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (TJ Miller), and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig).  At first, Hiccup is the embarrassment of the group, but eventually as he splits his time between learning dragonslaying with the others and learning how to fly with "Toothless" the Night Fury, he begins to be seen as a prodigy among the townsfolk.  When Stoick returns unsuccessful from his hunt, he's overjoyed that Hiccup seems to be succeeding and finally proving his worth.  But when Hiccup discovers a terrible secret about the dragons, he decides that he can't be a dragonslayer and concocts a plan to convince the townsfolk not to hate the dragons anymore.

But somewhere out there, a terrible creature is stirring.  And Stoick won't rest until he's killed every last dragon, no matter what claims his son makes of their innocence.  Hiccup and the other kids must find a way to save their parents and the dragons from a danger that could destroy them all.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is fun, and a bit lightweight dramatically, but gorgeously animated with a number of sequences that look great here and must have been amazing in 3D.  It doesn't spend much time exploring its characters, with only Hiccup, Stoick and Astrid getting any real development.  Instead, it fills its running time with a lot of action and high-flying adventure.  These flying sequences are easily the highlight of the film, and should delight anyone with a sense for action filmmaking... and, of course, your kids.

The gorgeous animation only helps these segments, as the directors concoct a number of thrilling sequences, including the climactic battle that starts in a cave and ends in stormy cloud cover.  Explosions, fire, and other effects all look incredible, and the picture is amazingly detailed despite the heavily stylized character designs.

One fault with the cast lies with the lead character Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel.  There are times where Baruchel's dry delivery just sounds wrong coming out of this kid's mouth, and there are times when he nails it.  It's not a bad performance, at worst I could call it inconsistent.  But everyone else comports themselves well.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who I'm afraid will always be typecast as "McLovin" until the end of time, actually blends better into the world of "How to Train Your Dragon" than Baruchel.  Gerard Butler is great as the Viking leader Stoick, bringing all of his badassery to bear while showing genuine emotion in scenes between him and Hiccup.  Craig Ferguson gets a lot of laughs as Gobber, while the other characters just kind of stay in the background until they're needed.

I'm not entirely certain why all the adults in the movie have Scottish accents and the kids don't, but, oh well.

The story is rather simplistic, going in all the directions you expect it will, lightly exploring themes of family and acceptance.  But it's obvious that the most care went into making sure that the action sequences were really stellar.  "How to Train Your Dragon" succeeds in being a lot of fun, and really well made - definitely worth your time, even if it's not as deep as it could have been.