Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, David Tennant
Plot: Hiccup (Baruchel) is the runt of his Viking tribe, unable to defend himself against the dragon wildlife. However, when he finds a wounded dragon in the woods, he befriends it and sets out to negotiate a peace between the two sides.
With the sequel to How to Train A Dragon just around the corner, it seemed fitting to revisit the original movie, which won me over instantly, the first time I watched it. Watching it for a second time… sigh, OK, third time… and the charm is still there and stronger than ever.
It starts a little clichéd. There is a tribe of strong Vikings and the son of the tribe leader is a disappointment to the rest of the group, including his father. While he is surrounded by the strong and brave, young Hiccup is skinny and ungainly, hardly a warrior. The audience rolls its eyes slightly. This is pretty much Kids Movie 101 and we begin to sense that we are going to be sitting through a rehashed version of every animation we have seen since the genre first kicked off. Thankfully, the setting of Vikings and Dragons really brings new life into an old tale. The isolated nature of the Vikings and their stubborn nature makes the ‘kill what you don’t understand’ narrative feel fitting and the natural evolution of Hiccup proving his place in the tribe feels worthy of the material. When the story gets into full flow, you cannot help but enjoy it.
Also, if you are a child, and let’s be honest with ourselves here, an adult, you were already sold on the premise by the addition of dragons. There aren’t really enough dragons in cinema, so having a whole movie with different ranges of the mythical beast, is a welcome idea, filling a very empty gap in the market. I love the imagination that went into the dragons (and yes, I know it is based on a series of books, so the film cannot take all the credit), as we see all different shapes and sizes. This is a clever move, as it hints that the dragons are more accepting of different physiques than the humans are. It also makes way for a fantastic new Top Trumps card game. And of course, then there is Toothless, who is the most loveable dragon to ever appear on a cinema screen. Coloured a majestic black, with eyes playfully shining like moons, he is instantly adorable. Intelligent, graceful like a cat and playful like a puppy, he was a sure-fire hit with the kids and rivals most Pixar creations for the best creature to come out of an animated film.
One small flaw is that it does get its morals muddied. The whole point of the movie is to teach the Vikings to try to understand the unknown, before quickly jumping to the conclusion of murder. However, once the dragons and Vikings have united, we turn to a villain. While the final fight is glorious to watch and absolutely superb when it comes to visual entertainment, surely the attack contradicts everything the movie has taught us before. We never really understand the antagonist of this movie and cannot help but feel a little pity for the one dragon who didn’t get a voice. But that is just needlessly picking apart a well-conceived story.
Final Verdict: How to Train Your Dragon is a glorious use of animation and story-telling to give us one of the most fun, exciting kids movies of the year.