The creative pairing behind the 2002 Oscar-nominated animated sci-fi feature “Lilo & Stitchâ€ helps the fantastical new animated adventure “How to Train Your Dragonâ€ soar far higher than anticipated.
Loosely based on Cressida Cowell’s 2003 children’s book, “How to Train Your Dragonâ€ glides over some familiar cinematic territory, with its father-son, boy-meets-wild, man-vs.-beast story line. But “Lilo & Stitchâ€ writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois use quirky good humor, surprising plot twists and wonderfully expressive animated characters to elevate the film beyond standard cliches.
“How to Train Your Dragonâ€ boasts stunning visuals, particularly the gorgeous and exhilarating dragonback flying scenes, which are worth the extra cost for 3-D tickets.
Set on the rugged island of Berk, the movie follows the misadventures of teenage Viking Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel). Unlike his chieftain father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), and the other villagers, Hiccup isn’t a bold and brawny warrior capable of fighting the marauding dragons that regularly wreak havoc. Rather, he is scrawny, clever, quick-witted and prone to disaster.
An obvious disappointment to his father and laughingstock to the village, Hiccup desperately wants to prove his Viking mettle by killing a dragon, but he is relegated to apprenticing with the crippled and chronically frank blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson).
But during a fateful nighttime dragon raid, Hiccup sneaks away from the anvil and uses one of his often-malfunctioning slingshot cannons to bring down a Night Fury, the most mysterious and feared of the interestingly diverse dragon breeds.
No one witnesses or believes his feat. So, after his father and most of the fighters leave on a voyage to find the elusive dragons’ nest, Hiccup goes to hunt for the downed dragon. He finds the injured Night Fury but doesn’t have the heart to kill it.
Instead, Hiccup tends the dragon, which can no longer fly without aid because of its wounded tail. Hiccup dubs the deadly but oddly cute beast Toothless, and his efforts to forge a friendship with the expressive (but thankfully speechless) creature provide some of the movie’s most engaging moments.
As Hiccup bonds with Toothless, he is able to use his newfound knowledge in dragon-training class, with his skills astounding Gobber and his once-jeering classmates, including bulky and brainy Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), blowhard Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and bickering twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller). But fierce fighter Astrid (America Ferrera) is suspicious of Hiccup’s sudden prowess and not only uncovers his secret but helps him unravel a key mystery about the dragons.
“How to Train Your Dragonâ€ may prove too scary for tiny or timid tots, but it ranks with “Shrekâ€ and “Kung Fu Pandaâ€ as one of DreamWorks Animation’s best films.