How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
It seems like barely a month goes by nowadays without some latest animated release being praised to the skies for being able to please all the family and for looking so lovely while doing so. How To Train Your Dragon is one such movie and I’m very pleased to say that, on this occasion, it is a movie deserving of every bit of praise heaped upon it.
A young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) lives in the town of Berk and is, generally, a bit of a walking disaster and an embarrassment to his strong, dragon-slying father, Stoick (Gerard Butler). When he somehow manages to ground a Night Fury, which is a dragon so elusive that nobody has actually managed to get close to one, Hiccup finds that he can befriend it. The dragon, named Toothless by his human buddy, needs to fix his tail before he can fly again and it’s a standard “thorn from the lion’s paw” situation. Meanwhile, however, Hiccup has to go through his training in preparation for proper dragon killing and while he uses everything he learns from Toothless he also realises that his people have things all wrong: the dragons don’t necessarily have to be a big, bad enemy.
Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the screenplay by William Davies and co-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders is warm and funny without ever getting too sickly sweet. The great vocal cast helps immensely with the likeable Jay Baruchel great as Hiccup, Butler gruff as ever as Stoick and a stock of assorted characters voiced by Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and even Ashley Jensen and David Tennant getting a line or two here and there.
The direction? I never quite know how to comment on the direction of animated movies but everything here is absolutely spot-on from the pacing to the choice of “camera moves” to the tone of the whole piece. In fact, this animated movie has one of the best, and quietly moving, final acts that I have seen in some time. For me, it blows away the likes of the overly praised Toy Story 3 and sets a benchmark for family movies that can mix very genuine emotional resonance with the delightful fantasy moments.
The design and animation is as great as you have every right to expect nowadays. All of the human characters have enough quirks to make each one identifiable while the dragons have a perfect mix of cuteness and danger (especially Toothless). There were a few bland frames here and there but, overall, I’d have to say that the whole thing is quite a work of art for the duration.
Not perfect, mainly because the last ¾ are SO good that the first 15 minutes or so pale in comparison, but it comes pretty close and will surely be a favourite for the young and the young at heart for some time to come. I hope.
DIRECTOR: DEAN DEBLOIS, CHRIS SANDERS
CAST: JAY BARUCHEL, GERARD BUTLER, AMERICA FERRERA, CRAIG FERGUSON, T.J. MILLER, JONAH HILL
DURATION: 98 MINS APPROX