How to Train Your Dragon is an animated film directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois, and features the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, and America Ferrera. It was produced by DreamWorks Animation and released on March 26, 2010. How to Train Your Dragon is based on a book of the same name by Cressida Cowell.
In the Viking village of Berk, killing a dragon is one of the greatest achievements one can attain. Hiccup, the Viking leader’s young son, never had the natural talent nor the physical strength to kill a dragon, but has developed a knack for things that require more brains than brawn. Through a contraption he built himself, he manages to snare a Nightfury, a powerful type of dragon that the Vikings know next to nothing about. When nobody sees nor believes he caught a Nightfury, Hiccup goes out to find it and bring back its heart as proof. Instead of killing the dragon, however, Hiccup decides to free it. He later discovers that he had permanently injured the dragon when he snared it, making it unable to fly properly. He spends time observing and helping the dragon as best he can. Through this, Hiccup learns more about the dragons, and starts to realize that maybe there was more to dragons than being dangerous creatures that must be killed on sight.
With a title like that, I was half-expecting the movie to be boring. It proved me dead wrong.
I’ll admit I have some bias toward dragons, and I like it when people make-up different “species” of dragons and explain what makes them different from others. Seeing the unique species that were presented in How to Train Your Dragon made my inner dragon-nerd squeal with delight. While Toothless, a Night Fury (a rare dragon that is nigh invisible at night and spits out explosive balls of… uh… lightning), is awesome, I have a fondness for the Monstrous Nightmare – a dragon that doesn’t just breathe fire, but also sets itself on fire. Awesome.
Dragon-spazzing aside, the rest of the movie was good too. The characters are a bit stereotypical, but I found them to be endearing all the same. The lead character, Hiccup, is a perfect example of your typical misunderstood kid whose innate talents are initially overlooked because they don’t conform to the “norms” of the people around him, until he manages to prove his worth in a surprisingly heroic fashion (like Jim Hawkins from Treasure Planet, minus rebellious, emo-ish behavior; or Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann). Astrid is your typical spunky, agile action girl who eventually becomes the dorky lead character’s love interest. Toothless is your usual big-scary-beast-turned-adorable-puppy-dog. All cookie-cutter characters, really, but the way they were animated and given personality through the voice acting made them immensely likable.
I never even heard of Jay Baruchel before watching this film. He did a good job expressing Hiccup’s dorkiness, but I sometimes found his voice to be a bit too low for the someone as scrawny as Hiccup. America Ferrera did a fantastic job with the confident Astrid, which surprised me because she’s more well-known as the awkward protagonist in Ugly Betty. Having Gerard Butler cast as Stoick, Hiccup’s badass Viking father, however, was not surprising at all; it was fairly easy to imagine him shouting “THIS. IS. SPARTA!” at the dragons he was attacking. It was nice to actually hear him make use of his real accent than having to hear him accidentally slip into it while doing a British accent the way he did in 300.
The visuals of this movie are stunning; far better than the other DreamWorks Animation films I’ve seen, to say the least. This movie really shows that DreamWorks Animation is capable of producing a film with visuals as rich as anything Pixar can dish out.
I found the way they rendered the environments to be particularly appealing, especially in the sequences where Hiccup and Toothless take flight. The part where Hiccup takes Astrid along for a ride was particularly gorgeous which I promise to take screenshots of when I can.
Though following the typical template of a coming-of-age story about an awkward boy who emerges a hero in the end, How to Train Your Dragon is still a good, fun movie that I’m probably going to watch over and over once I get my hands on a DVD.