“Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile.”
That’s a quote by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) from DreamWorks’ new CGI animated film HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. And I, uh, have to fess up and admit that those words were similar to my sentiments when I first saw the trailer for this one. I didn’t care for the look of the animation and the story seemed pretty run-of-the-mill if one swaps out the dragon for a dog or some other kind of pet. In fact, the main reason I went to see it was because my wife wanted to go.
Okay, that there’s the full admission of my…well, judgmental attitude toward HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. But hey, I’m big enough to admit it publicly. You see, if I’d been right I’d probably be boasting about the strength of my senses. But instead, I’m having to pull my foot out of my mouth. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, as it turns out, is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. It’s also got a nice, thoughtful message for young and old alike (even though it’s far from new, it plays out well). So there it is: John 0, DreamWorks team 1. And I’m happy to say so.
It’s a funny thing, but while watching DRAGON it felt as if it’s central message of “Hey, these beasties aren’t at all what we thought they were.” was poking me in the chest and saying, “Get it? This pre-judging thing ain’t so hot.” Okay, okay, I got it. Still, in my defense I’d just like to say that I was softening up and coming around during the first two minutes. I found myself having fun with Hiccup’s style of narration, and the animation style was already beginning to work for me. In the context of the production design and story, it was coming together nicely.
The story itself, which is based on the 2004 book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, is all about our young Viking friend Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who’s not so Vikingy as he and dear old dad (Gerard Butler) wish he was. You see, dad is the ueber-brave sort and a famed dragon slayer (the winged creatures are thought to be evil and nasty wretches), not to mention the leader of the Viking clan; while junior falls into the woebegone category. He desperately wishes to become a respected dragon slayer in his own right. His dream is to become the first Viking to bring down a member of the oh-so elusive and dangerous Night Fury breed. Surely this would cement his desired stature within the clan. To that end he develops a weapon to help him do just that. And he does! Trouble is, no one sees the dragon go down, and certainly no one is willing to listen to him about his accomplishment.
He knows he saw it go down, however, and sets out to find the evidence of his triumph. Eventually he does come across the beast – which crashed thunderously in the woods – and finds it still ensnared in the rope webbing from his weapon. He summons up the nerve to examine it and “take its heart back to dad,” but he just can’t bring himself to kill it. Instead he helps it out, Androcles-and-the-Lion-style and cuts it loose from its trappings. The dragon quickly pins him down, but does not kill him either. It merely snarls and darts off, smashing into things as it tries to make its getaway.
Eventually, Hiccup realizes that its tail was damaged and that it cannot fly properly any longer. Feeling pity and guilt – and a certain sense of curiosity – he tries to befriend and help creature. The two wind up bonding, and Hiccup discovers that dragons are not at all what everyone has thought them to be.
If you’ve seen the trailer, yes, Hiccup has a crush on a young lass (voiced by America Ferrera) and there’s a subplot involving their relationship. Needless to say, she’s supposed to be cute in her own way – hip, tough and all the rest of it – but this is one of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON’s more conventional aspects, so I won’t belabor it here, except to say that even it was likeable enough to be rather merry.
There are also some fun dragon facts that Hiccup learns and uses to non-violently subdue his winged attackers during some dragon slaying classes that he finds himself in. But I’ve given you enough spoilers so we’ll end the synopsis right here.
All you really need to know is that if your attitude toward HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was similar to mine, then drop it and go see this entertaining, smart, and even quaintly wise little movie. Oh, and don’t skimp out on the 3-D because you think the film’s not worth it. It is.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures 2010; 98 min.) Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Screenplay by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Additional writing by Adam F. Goldberg and Peter Tolan. Based on the book by Cressida Cowell. Produced by Bonnie Arnold. Co-Produced by Michael A. Connolly. Executive produced by Kristine Belson and Tim Johnson. Production Design by Kathy Altieri. Art Direction by Piere-Olivier Vincent. Visual Effects Supervision by Craig Ring. Music Composed by John Powell. Edited By Maryann Brandon. Cast of Voices: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Robin Atkin Downes, Philip McGrade, Kieron Elliott, and Ashley Jensen. MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.