Directed by: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins
Release Date: March 26, 2010
PLOT: Hiccup (Baruchel) wants to prove his worth as a Viking, but just can’t seem to please his father, Stoick (Butler), or impress the ladies. He tries to slay a dragon to prove himself, but ends up taking pity on the creature and setting it free. As he develops a relationship with Toothless, the dragon, he also finds his new dragon-charming skills raise him in his fellow Vikings’ esteem as well. At least, until they learn the truth.
WHO’S IT FOR? Kids will enjoy the 3D, but their parents will enjoy the jokes and story.
EXPECTATIONS: The previews looked pretty good, but I’m never sure about Dreamworks animated films. Not a huge Shrek fan.
Jay Baruchel as Hiccup: Baruchel lends his voice to the role of a geeky Viking, as opposed to the geeky teens and twentysomethings he’s played in films like Knocked Up and the short-lived, Apatow-produced TV show Undeclared. Though I sometimes feel that he suffers from an overly sarcastic-sounding voice, he does a good job masking it in this film. Baruchel imbues Hiccup with a lot of charm, which is helpful because in many of his scenes with Toothless, he’s carrying the dialogue. But really it’s his rapport with the other actors that’s his biggest strength, especially with Ferguson.
Gerard Butler as Stoick: Apparently Butler doesn’t need those abs to have great onscreen presence. He does a great job playing a father who can’t quite find common ground with his son, although he really wants to. His performance is both gruff and touching by turns. However, it’s a little frustrating; if Butler’s so charming and such a good actor, why can’t he find more decent films to act in?
Craig Ferguson as Gobber: I’m a huge fan of Ferguson’s talk show. Even so, I realize that he doesn’t have a great track record as an actor. Still, he acquits himself nicely as a battle-scarred warrior who’s trying to train the young Vikings, and takes a special interest in Hiccup. He’s good, but I kept wanting him to just break out and be Craig. His talk show personality is just way more interesting than the character he was playing, even though it was a one-armed, one-legged Viking
America Ferrera as Astrid: A tough chick who wants to be the best warrior of her generation, Ferrera does a lot to make Astrid a fairly well rounded character even without a ton of screen time. Whoever came up with her look did a great job (the kilt-with-animal-skull-belt combo should be big at Hot Topic in the following months – at least, among tweens who are willing to admit they saw this movie). Ferrera’s another actor I’d like to see expand her repertoire.
TALKING: The dialogue’s fairly well-written and pretty entertaining. The jokes are well-placed, especially in the scenes with the various Vikings-in-training as they practice fighting dragons. It doesn’t hurt that you’ve got the likes of Jonah Hill, Kristin Wiig and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin’) telling the jokes.
SIGHTS: Stylistically, the film is solid, though no new territory is visited. The human characters resemble those from other popular computer animated films like Monsters Vs. Aliens and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. They look human-y with a touch of cartoon to keep them away from Final Fantasy style photorealism, and more like typical cartoon characters. The dragons are pretty well done, and the scenes where they swoop and soar are fun to watch. Though the film looks good in IMAX 3D, I didn’t feel like it broke any new ground as far as showing what could be done in the medium.
SOUNDS: The score veers more toward soaring adventure film than the typical whimsical cartoon fare. Though it is a comedy, there are plenty of really exciting scenes, and the music is more noticeable in those moments.
BEST SCENE: There are a few different, cool flying scenes to choose from, but I really enjoyed the opening scene. The filmmakers made an excellent action sequence that manages to establish all the lead characters, and be funny and exciting. Plus there are some good sheep-based sight gags, and sheep are always funny. It’s one of the primary rules of comedy.
ENDING: Though I enjoyed the final battle scene, I felt that everything was wrapped up a little too neatly. After spending so long training Toothless, Hiccup also managed to train all the other dragons and show his classmates how to ride them in no time. Also Hiccup suffers an injury, and it’s handled in a more offhanded manner than it seemed to merit.
QUESTIONS: After generations of warring between the Vikings and the dragons, how can they come together so easily? Why do adult Vikings have Scottish accents?
REWATCHABILITY: I won’t be running back to the theater anytime soon, but I could watch this later on DVD.
How to Train Your Dragon starts out very strongly with a great action sequence, and continues to entertain until the end. I did have some problems with later events seeming to wrap up a little too neatly, but despite that, there’s a lot to like. The characters are fun, the voice acting is solid, and the flight sequences are really great. Though watching dragons swoop and soar in 3D is pretty cool, I don’t think this film has to be seen in 3D to be enjoyed. If you’re still not sold on the concept, I doubt this movie will change your mind. However, if you enjoy 3D movies, then it’s worth seeing this one with the glasses.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10