|Go ahead. Pretend this isn't the cutest thing ever.|
How to Train Your Dragon, an animated film loosely based on the children’s book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, tells a story told countless times before. An unappreciated protagonist (Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel) goes on an adventure of sorts that, by the time the movie is over, changes him in such a way that everyone begins to appreciate him. There’s an overbearing father (Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler), a romantic interest that doesn’t share the feelings (Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera), and a rather odd group of friends. The thing is, you don’t care that you pretty much know how everything is going to turn out. Even though you’ve certainly seen the same story over and over again throughout the years, it doesn’t matter; How to Train Your Dragon keeps you captivated from beginning to end.
The movie starts off in the midst of a battle between the Vikings of the island of Berk, led by Stoick, and a group of dragons. Hiccup, being a useless adolescent with no particular talents, is essentially just hiding and watching. He knows, however, that he needs to kill a dragon in order to gain the respect of the village. So he hatches a plan to shoot down the elusive Night Fury, a species of dragon that no one had ever seen (and lived to tell the tale). He manages to do so, shooting a sort of bolas out of a crude ballista. Naturally, no one believes he actually did it, and ignore his idea to go and find where it landed. He does so himself, finding the dragon tied up in the woods, unable to move. Hiccup can’t bring himself to kill it, cuts the ropes, and watches as he tries to fly away. Upon realizing that the dragon’s tail is badly injured and he can’t fly, Hiccup decides to befriend the dragon (who he names Toothless) and fix his tail. After some initial caution, Toothless gives in to the idea, and they become best friends.
Possibly the best scenes in the film are those with Hiccup riding on Toothless. I didn’t manage to see it in 3D, which I heard was breathtaking, but even in 2D you’re moved to silence. Silence itself is a major part of the developing friendship between the two, showing that DreamWorks has learned something from Pixar, who used silence to great effect in both WALL-E and Up. But anyways: flying. Every scene with them in the air will make you feel alive and happy. Avatar did the same thing, but with less joy and more grandeur. How to Train Your Dragon simply makes it fun.
The voice acting is nothing to rave about, but definitely up to par. Gerard Butler in particular does a great job, and made me enjoy every scene he was in. One other aspect of the film that did really stand out to me, though, was the score. John Powell made a soundtrack that did exactly what it was supposed to do, exactly when it was supposed to do it. Sure, it could at times be a little bombastic, but that’s not a bad thing. He also went the other way, letting the visuals speak for themselves when necessary and leaving out the sound. His best pieces, in my opinion, were the ones that played during flight. They’re fun, lively, and make you experience a sort of soaring feeling (pun absolutely intended). The animation is also top-notch, especially that of Toothless. I'll be honest, his facial expressions made me coo like a mother over a cute baby.
Excusing the fact that it uses an old (and arguably overused) story, How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best films of the last few years, animated or not. I wouldn’t put it quite up to par with some of Pixar’s best stuff, like Up, WALL-E, Toy Story 1, 2, and 3, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and The Incredibles, but I would probably say it’s better than Cars, A Bug’s Life, and maybe even Ratatouille. That’s high praise for any movie, and could potentially put DreamWorks back on the animated film map.
Official Grade: Like