How to Train Your Dragon
Directed by Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders. Voices by Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller. (2010, PG, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 26, 2010
Whether Viking-born or contemporary American, all children want to control their dragons, be they of literal or metaphorical origins. That’s the bet made by this new animated film from DreamWorks, which is directed by the same team that made Lilo & Stitch. Inspired by Cressida Cowell’s eight-book series, this film is set on the Viking island of Berk, where the community’s only problem derives from its occasional onslaught of flying dragons. But for young Hiccup (voiced by Baruchel, who can currently be seen on screens in She’s Out of My League), the Vikings are a brawny and aggressive lot who school their teens in the art of dragon-fighting. Cerebral Hiccup is a disappointment to his father, Stoick (Butler, who delivers lines in his scowling 300 mode rather than his newly reincarnated romantic-comedy mode), who also happens to be the leader of the clan. Yet it is Hiccup who discovers the secret to conquering the clan’s dragon problem: Make love, not war. Nursing a downed Night Fury, the most feared of all dragons, Hiccup realizes that all the Vikings’ assumptions about dragons have been incorrect and paves the way for turning the animals into petlike creatures instead of enemy combatants. Cue happy ending. It’s during Hiccup’s flight on the back of the injured Night Fury that How to Train Your Dragon is most alive and makes fantastic use of the 3-D effects to create a majestic sense of depth and soaring flight. Incongruities abound in the film: We’re told that Berk is a cold, dark, and unforgiving place, although it always looks like a summer’s day; Stoick and Gobber (Ferguson) speak in thick Scottish burrs, though the film’s other characters speak with the inflections of American mall rats; and all the adults have builds that would fit right into the B-roll of one of those news stories about obesity that films fat people from the waist down, while the teenagers are mostly (and insidiously) slim and fit – Ferrara’s Astrid is a wasp-waisted blonde, a far cry from her days starring in Real Women Have Curves. Nevertheless, the film is an engaging yet bloodless adventure with a sterling message about meeting the enemy and discovering that he is us (to paraphrase Pogo). The swarming dragon attacks may truly frighten the littlest viewers, but the depiction of the pleasures of flight and the conquering of one’s fears should make How to Train Your Dragon a perennial delight.