Saturday, December 18, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon Movie Review

There’s a sequence in the animated film How to Train Your Dragon in which Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) soars away on the back of a dragon he’s been, well, training. The dragon takes him high up into the clouds, down to the surface of the ocean, darting in and out of and around craggy rock formations. The sequence is exhilarating and bears comparison to Jake’s first flight on the winged creatures in Avatar, which is completely shamed by this film.

It says something about the storytelling skill of screenwriters and animators who are able to draw such a strong emotional reaction from an adult with regard to a cartoon character. Hiccup is an outcast from a clan of Vikings (who bizarrely have Scottish accents – except the kids). He is the shame of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), who is the clan leader and strident warrior. The Vikings have one principal enemy – dragons. They are regularly beset upon by various species of the winged beasts that deprive them of sheep, homes and the occasional limb.

Hiccup’s problem is he’s a bit of a dreamer. Really he’s an archetype – the group member whose new-fangled ideas may just revolutionize society. He’s more interested in design than in slaying dragons, an activity that is all the talk of his contemporaries including the aspiring warrior Astrid (America Ferrera), the obnoxious Snotlout (a very funny Jonah Hill), the know-it-all Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut. No one is more knowledgeable in the art of dragon slaying than Gobber (Craig Ferguson), who walks around on a peg leg and has various tool attachments to take the place of his missing hand – both the result of occupational hazards.

During a dragon attack one night, Hiccup takes down a dreaded Night Fury – a dragon no Viking has ever seen, let alone killed. The next day he tracks it down. Finding it wounded and frightened, he’s unable to kill it. Instead he befriends it by finding out what dragons like. Over time he devises a mechanism to replace the dragon’s (now named Toothless) missing piece of tail and discovers how to subdue dragons without the use of threatening weapons. Soon he is dominating in the training ring with the tricks he’s learned and earns the admiration and support of the whole village. The secret he harbors could be his undoing, however.

The screenplay by William Davies and co-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders is adapted from the first in a series of children’s novels by Cressida Cowell. The two directors previously collaborated on the Disney film Lilo & Stitch, another film about misperceptions and preconceived notions about unknown creatures. Surely it’s no accident that Toothless the Night Fury looks like Stitch’s long lost twin. As far as animation direction goes, Sanders and DeBlois have the knack. Lilo & Stitch has always stood out in my mind as having exciting action sequences and a very amusing story to drive it along. How to Train Your Dragon succeeds, among other things, on the same merits.
Stitch from Lilo & Stitch
Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon bears a striking resemblance to Stitch, above
Hiccup is an outsider because of his insistence on challenging the collective knowledge set down in the Vikings’ dragon encyclopedia. “Everything we think we know about them is wrong,” he says. The individual who is willing to stand up and show people a new and better way of doing things will always face steep resistance, as Hiccup does. But like any good revolutionary hero he enlists the help of the other young warriors to support him. Of course it helps that they also find a common enemy for both Vikings and dragons to confront.


  1. Brittany just wants to hug him.

  2. I <3 Toothless!