Mythology rules in “How to Train Your Dragon,” even if the themes are entirely real and relevant.
That merge, and the film’s relative complexity, make it one of the best outings in the DreamWorks Animation canon, and very close to Pixar-level storytelling ingenuity. It’s easy to like this film.
Based on the series of books by British author Cressida Cowell, the 3D-animated tale tells of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the teen Viking who is different than the other Viking boys. He wants the reputation as a tough Viking warrior that is part of the clan’s heritage, but doesn’t want to get there with acts falling outside his moral boundaries.
So when Hiccup is sent to kill a flying dragon —- the beasts that have waged war with these Vikings on the island of Berk for centuries —- he’s caught in the middle. This proves especially true when the dragon Hiccup wounds turns out to be fierce, but willing to compromise, and even serve Hiccup as a loyal companion and protector.
The other villagers will have no part in this notion, and Hiccup’s perceived missteps cause a schism between Hiccup and his tough-leader father Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler. Stoick demands his son continue the fight and earn his place in the Viking legacy as a conqueror. Hiccup, meanwhile, discovers a secret that will at last convince his father and the other Vikings that the dragons aren’t their enemy, and in fact enjoy more in common than they realized.
“How to Train Your Dragon” delivers a surface lesson on the value of better understanding and reconciliation in lieu of violent action, but it’s more resonant and heartfelt themes are about family and friendship, and how listening and learning trump stubborn demands. The roller coaster relationship between Hiccup and his father is loaded with all-purpose lessons likely to connect with both children and adults.
Meanwhile, the animation —- especially the flying sequences —- are top-game, the 3D elements used wisely and not without reason. Those elements add to the quality rather than create an unnecessary technology circus. Tightly drawn and well crafted, “How to Train Your Dragon” breathes creative fire, enough humor and calmer places within to make the film matter.
3-1/2 (out of 4)