Hiccup, the laconic nerdy son of a Viking chief, befriends a juvenille dragon he’s supposed to kill, in the process discovering the secret of the dragon lair from which the beasts’ deadly raids are launched.
Dreamworks has done another stand-out job, a real visual treat. The quality of the animation is terrific – Viking beards, dragon scales, clouds, mountains, water, lots of fire and other textures – with superbly realised motion for the dragons. There are some marvellously realised dragons in all shapes and sizes and some great flying sequences (I know, I’m a sucker for a good flying sequence).
There’s a typically over the top finale that is an epic mash of Jason and the Argonauts, Godzilla, Dragonheart and Eragon.
It all helps How to Train lift itself above the clichéd kids’ adventure plot that we’ve seen so many times before; a typical young hero’s quest. On the plus-side, there’s a good dollop of old-fashioned boy’s adventure, paced at a rapid clip, with some smart one-line gags.
On the minus, if you think too much, you’ll come up with some nagging questions – such as why are the adult Vikings Scottish (Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Ashley Jensen, David Tennant), while the kids are at the annoying worst end of American teenage; drawling, glib, noisy, largely ignorant and entirely ill-mannered. Being ‘vikings’ is no excuse.
In lead vocal performer Jay Baruchel, the producers have found the closest thing to the young Tom Hanks since, well, Tom Hanks. Female lead Astrid, voiced blandly by America Ferrara (Ugly Betty) gets surprsingly little to do despite being the obligatory token kick-ass chick.
It’s a shame the dialogue tramples every cliché in the book. It’s redeemed by some sharp one-liners and sit-com framing. There are some scary moments for the young ones, but it’s all tempered by the cuteness with which even the toothiest dragons are rendered. Hiccup’s pet Night Fury is a big-eyed flying bunny, part Bambi, part ET.
Go with it. It’s fun. RC
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Story: Cressida Cowell
Writer: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Running time: 1 hr. 38 min.
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Ashley Jensen, David Tennant
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