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I learned something new today—Scandinavian Vikings have Scottish accents. Well, at least the adults do, the brogue seems to have withered away in the next generation of dragon slayers. Yes, dragon slaying is the main occupation of these massive brutes, doing all they can to protect their island village while the fire-breathing beasts ravaging it in search of food. What I also learned while watching How to Train Your Dragon is that studios are catching on to what makes 3D effective. Much like Avatar used it to envelop its audience into a world they’ve never seen, Dreamworks have done the same, creating depth rather than the gimmick of throwing stuff at our faces. As a result, you soon forget the glasses on your face and begin to enjoy the ride, sitting back as young Hiccup becomes the first Viking to attempt being a dragon’s friend rather than kill it while its down. Let’s just say the elders of Berk don’t quite take a shine to that idea.

The black sheep of the entire clan, Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is, of course, also the son of its leader. Apprenticing with the local blacksmith Gobber—relegated to that duty because of a missing arm and leg from battle—the scrawny guy is always trying to create new ways to make his mark. Capturing and killing a Night Fury would be the best way to do so, and as a result, during the current battle waging, Hiccup brings an invention outside and lets its rope trap fly into the night, hoping to grab the elusive dragon that no one has ever seen. The escapade leads to disaster as his father Stoick saves him from another creature while fire breaks out and allows all captive dragons to fly away free. While Stoick and the adults go off to hunt the retreating legion down, hopefully arriving at their nest, Gobber stays behind to train the children how to become dragon slayers themselves. Against his will, Hiccup is forced to partake too, just at the point where he finds the Fury he snagged and has started nursing it back to health, fixing his damaged tail to fly once more.

As a result, the middle half of the film deals strictly with the kids in training and Hiccup’s burgeoning friendship with Toothless the dragon. Being around the Night Fury allows the boy to have unfettered access to the race his people have been hunting for centuries, showing him the secrets of what they are, including fears and pleasures. Acting like a pet dog, Toothless goes from sneers of anger at the sight of weapons to the doe-eyed anticipation of fun and obedience otherwise. When offering food back to Hiccup or playing around in the field that has trapped him because his injury keeps him grounded, the facial expressions recalled my sister’s dog, that cute little pouty face of utter ambivalence—a cross between having nothing in his head with the pure desire of running around with no specific place to go. The companionship soon shows the boy that these dragons are just as afraid of them as they are of he; if only compassion was shown, perhaps they could live in harmony. No one can fear something that disarms from the pleasure of a scratch under its chin or cowers at the sight and smell of an eel—all tricks Hiccup learns and uses to become a God in training, becoming the best dragon dispatcher the village has ever seen.

It then becomes the final act where everything gels together and we see the changing of the guard in Berk. With a common enemy, namely a behemoth queen who instills terror into her brood, maybe the Vikings and dragons can learn to live in harmony. And like any good children’s film, there is no better person to bridge that gap then a misunderstood youngin. As such, the choice of Baruchel is perfect, lending that low self-esteem demeanor to the naïve kid you know from the trailers will somehow overcome any anxiety and alter everyone’s outlook on life. Throw in the headstrong warrior girl Astrid, (voiced by America Ferrera), the manic fast-talking and over confident Snotlout, (Jonah Hill), twin crazies in Tuffnut and Ruffnut, (T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig), and nerdy Fishlegs, who knows every strength and weakness of any dragon ever, (Christopher Mintz-Plasse of course), and you have the right amounts of humor to keep the physical comedy going while Hiccup continues to hone his dragon riding skills in secret. The fact that Gobber the teacher is voiced by Craig Ferguson doesn’t hurt either, especially when he utters random jokes opposite the serious Stoick, played by tough guy Gerard Butler.

And while the voice acting is superb, the animation also excels. Each character utilizes attributes of the people playing them and the motion is fluid and realistic. Creating so many different species of dragons must not have been too easy of a job either, but the art directors do a bang up job keeping the menacing ones fierce and the more humorous types cute and funny. Berk itself is an intriguing environment too, made up of stone and wood, perfect for the amount of destruction by fire wrought throughout. But it is the fire, along with the other elements of water and air, which is rendered magnificently for the 3D format, creating some breath-taking flight scenes as we ride with Hiccup and Toothless through the clouds and around mountainous pillars of stone. There really is something for everyone in How to Train Your Dragon, for kids and adults alike. You’ll laugh at the comedy, enjoy the thrills of life amongst dragons, and be touched by the ugly-duckling type story at the center, pulling for Hiccup to rise above his limitations and be the hero he knows is locked up inside of him. It’s a cute, family-friendly film that should do very well at the box office, something I wasn’t quite anticipating with the lackluster trailer.

How to Train Your Dragon 8/10

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photography:
[1] Jay Baruchel voices “Hiccup” in the DreamWorks Animation film “How To Train Your Dragon,” releasing March 26, 2010.
[2] Hiccup’s fellow classmates in Dragon Training are (left to right): Ruffnut (KRISTEN WIIG), Snotlout (JONAH HILL), Astrid (AMERICA FERRERA), Fishlegs (CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE) and Tuffnut (TJ MILLER) in DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon.”

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