Hiccup is attracted to Astrid (America Ferrera), a tough Viking girl who, unfortunately for the gentle Hiccup, is only interested in boys who want to kill dragons. The story begins in earnest when Hiccup is thrown into dragon training class with Astrid and other town children, while he is secretly befriending an injured dragon he names “Toothless.”
The animation style was delightfully whimsical, and many of the dragons were almost elementary school-style drawings with teeth impossibly big and curved. Still, when they spit fire and attack the village, it’s frightening and certainly might be a bit intense for the youngest of filmgoers.
I also really enjoyed the character names in the story: Just about every character in How to Train Your Dragon has an amusing name. Here are some of the best: Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Phlegma the Fierce (Ashley Jensen), the twins Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Spitelout (David Tennant).
Unlike films that retrofit the 3-D technology onto an already complete film (Alice in Wonderland), How to Train Your Dragon is rendered in 3-D from the first frame, and it shows. There’s more depth to the visuals and they’re rendered as three-dimensional objects rather than multiple 2-D layers. The exterior shots and the scenes where Hiccup and Toothless are flying high above the village, swooping through precarious terrain, are terrific.
However, there was a problem with the 3-D: In many scenes, there was a visible motion blur. In one scene the camera pans down the mountainside to show you the boats preparing to depart from the dock, and it’s not until it “stops” panning that the objects in the scene gain clarity. Once I noticed that effect, I saw it occur again and again as the scenery raced by in 3-D. Perhaps it’s a limitation of how our brains can process the forced dimensionality, but it marred an otherwise fine use of 3-D technology.
I was also startled at how much Toothless looked like Stitch from the 2002 Disney animated feature Lilo and Stitch. One’s a dragon and the other is an alien refugee, but the scenes where Toothless tries to smile or eats fish make him look a lot like Stitch. There’s another “inspiration” that seems to have impacted the Dreamworks Animation team: Avatar. The exterior mountaintops, constantly wreathed in clouds, are often remarkably similar to the planet Pandora in the James Cameron blockbuster.
Oh, and one more parallel: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. What most stands out in my mind about E.T. was how it simplistically made all adults bad and untrustworthy and all kids good and able to really band together and save the day. In a similar way, How to Train Your Dragon has a strong subtext of adults ignoring children and being stupid and violent while children are valiantly working together to achieve harmony.
I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon. The visuals were impressive, the story was predictable but lively and interesting, and the voice characterizations were amusing. It’s not a great children’s movie but would be a pleasant 98-minute diversion, particularly with its generally splendid 3-D imagery.
Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember and sees at least 500 films a year. You can find his longer, more detailed reviews at www. DaveOnFilm.com or follow his movie updates on Twitter at @FilmBuzz.