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With a somewhat unwieldy title and lacking the winning Pixar association that has dominated the Oscars for a decade, Dreamworks animations latest could have been a clunker. Not only is How to Train Your Dragon the best film of the year so far, but it even eclipses the quality of last year’s duel academy award winner Up.
The latest 3D film to fly into theaters in so many weeks is also the best of its format (story-wise), making Tim Burton’s overblown misfire Alice in Wonderland look even more pitiful. “Dragon” will no doubt enamour kids while keeping parents not only awake, but also equally enthralled. Its warmth is sure to tug the hearts of anyone who has ever loved a pet and will undoubtedly draw tears from those who are so inclined.
On the Island of Berk, the Viking community that lives there does not fear a rival tribe, the weather, or disease, but rather a much more toothy threat: dragons. Nightly raids by the winged beasts have branded a great hatred upon the tribe and led by the aptly named Stoik the Vast (Gerard Butler) they wage war with the intent to rid themselves of dragons once and for all. This is not a feeling shared by Stoik’s scrawny son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who favours non-lethal tactics as much as he does blacksmithing. Much to Hiccup’s surprise, during one of the aforementioned raids he is able to down a dragon with one of his contraptions. Intent on proving his manhood to Stoik, he seeks out to find the dragon known as a Night Fury but finds himself unable to slay his scaly foe. So begins an unlikely and forbidden friendship with the later named Toothless. We are then taken on a time-tested but absolutely rewarding arc that is as enthralling as it is touching.
The texture that can be created from today’s CG technology never ceases to amaze. Consider a beautiful tracking shot of a downed dragon where the twisted wing that protrudes towards the screen is actually out of focus, as if you yourself were staring awestruck at the giant lizard that lay before you in real, tangible life. I did not have the pleasure of viewing How to Train Your Dragon in 3D, but even without having paying the surcharge the film does in no way suffer. The narrative, visuals, writing and voice work are ample reason to seek out “Dragon” and frankly encompass the real heart of the movie anyways.
Joining Butler and Baruchel are Craig Fergusson as the Viking blacksmith, America Ferrera as the feisty object of Hiccup’s affections and a whole slice of the Judd Apatow gang including Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jonah Hill voicing other young warriors. Much like the adorable robot WALL-E in the Pixar Oscar-winner of the same name, Toothless exhibits oodles of personality and is endlessly endearing. To achieve this level of depth is perhaps even more impressive due to the fact that he never utters a word and must emote through non-verbal means.
Along with Kung Fu Panda this movie represents the highest ilk of the Dreamworks repertoire and that is not a backhanded compliment by any means. Like “Panda”, there are thrilling and well-choreographed action sequences to compliment the heart, and plenty of humor to keep this from becoming too much of a dramatic slog for younger theater-goers. Teenager or adult, fan of animation or not, if you like truly good cinema you will not be unsatisfied by How to Train Your Dragon.
How to Train Your Dragon
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Written by William Davies and Cressida Cowell (novel)
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera