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Movie Review - 'How To Train Your Dragon'

How to Train Your Dragon

Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, and Craig Ferguson
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Rated PG

traindragonposter.jpg It’s no Up, but How to Train Your Dragon is an engaging, smart, and animated piece of animation, blending a story that’s easy to follow with a sense of humor more geared for parents than their kids.

In the Viking village of Berk, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is an unlikely hero. Surrounded by burly bearded Norsemen, he's a clumsy flyweight whose every effort to help the village fight the airborne attacks by hordes of dragons backfires. But when he wounds the feared Night Fury dragon and realizes he doesn’t have it in him to kill anything, a curious friendship is born.

The film is based on the popular book series by British authoress Cressida Cowell. She's no relation, although her husband is also named Simon Cowell, because that's just the way the world works sometimes. There are plenty of books DreamWorks can return to down the road, even a prequel (Hiccup the Seasick Viking).

Supposing the movie does well, the studio might see this as an opportunity to pick up where Shrek leaves off for two reasons. 1) Shrek winds down this summer, and 2) They're two franchises cut from the same cloth, so it's a perfect fit.

It is a wholly separate consideration to think about box office here; having said that, it's the kind of story with the kind of characters audiences will probably want to see plenty more of in the next few years. That's a sign of a good film in a lot of cases: Would you spend two more hours with these same people? And the answer is yes.

Train Your Dragon is another addition to the growing collection of Fractured Fairy Tales, fantasy stories imbued with very contemporary dialogue and humor. Because it's based on previously published material, its story never feels empty or shows signs of struggle; the filmmakers dip into the work Cowell has already done building Berk and the folklore of these dragons and give the movie a pretty solid foundation to work from.

The animation in Train Your Dragon is OK. That’s one of the major differences between the DreamWorks cartoons and Pixar’s work. Well, that and consistently beautiful storytelling. DreamWorks simply aims to put four or more butts in seats at one time. The studio has been successful doing just that without slaving away on every pixel. Here, the Vikings are well-drawn and the dragons look absolutely silly. On the plus side, the 3-D is more vibrant and works better than it has in previous animated films, like Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Monsters vs. Aliens.

The strength of the film is the voice work. Baruchel is wonderfully awkward; as his warrior father, Gerard Butler wisely revisits King Leonidas from 300; and as the village blacksmith, talk show host Craig Ferguson gets a few big laughs without ever going overboard. They keep a lively script moving without trying to be showstoppers, which would be the case if the cast featured, say, Robin Williams.

Like the 3-D glasses that come with your tickets, How to Train Your Dragon is purely disposable, but it sets simple goals and slightly exceeds them.

Reader Comments (15)

Still have to see this one :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

The Night Fury that Hiccup befriends reminded my wife and I of one of our cats. We wondered if 'Toothless' was modeled after the artists Russian Blue.

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