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The Independent Critic

VOICE WORK BY
Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
98 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
DreamWorks Animation
DVD EXTRAS
Go Behind the Scenes with the Cast and Filmmakers that Brought the Dragons to Life
 "How to Train Your Dragon" Review 
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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a 98-pound weakling amongst a sea of Vikings in How to Train Your Dragon. The latest animated offering from DreamWorks Animation, How to Train Your Dragon is based upon Cressida Cowell's best selling book for kids, an exciting adventure fantasy in which Hiccup rebels against the Viking tradition of dragon slaying by actually befriending one of the creatures, affectionately named Toothless, a dragon he himself injures during a misguided attempt at fitting in amongst other teens being trained to slay the beasts.

The latest example of Hollywood's infatuation with 3D animation, How to Train Your Dragon utilizes the technology differently and more intelligently than most of the recent 3D flicks. Rather than taking a "throw it at the screen" approach or attempting to dazzle audiences with pointless special effects, How to Train Your Dragon feels more like James Cameron's Avatar in the way it creates a full on sensory experience of the way Hiccup, the Vikings and the dragons live in a very different world. Flying scenes are mesmerizing and the Viking village itself is a multi-layered, visually arresting land in which we seemingly reside right alongside its residents.

Hiccup is the son of Stoick (Gerard Butler), the village's courageous chief and a master dragon slayer. It likely goes without saying that Hiccup is a wee bit of a disappointment, a young man more suited to common labor than dragon slaying despite his own lofty ambitions. When Hiccup is accepted into dragon slayer training, he begins to gain self-confidence and becomes smitten by Astrid (America Ferrara), the class's initial shining star determined to excel in dragon slaying. About the time he becomes convinced of his own strength, Hiccup's encounter with the wounded dragon sets him on an entirely different and amazingly touching path.

With surprising intelligence and tenderness, How to Train Your Dragon often feels much like any number of "child bonds with creature" type flicks such as Old Yeller, Flicka, Free Willy or others. The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless feels genuine, a product of Hiccup's patient nurturing of Toothless's healing and independence, as well as Toothless's gradual ability to trust the young man who'd once preyed upon him.

Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have created a marvelous and magical world that feels as alive as Pandora while being more grounded in a sense of reality and humanity. 

The vocal work in How to Train Your Dragon is stellar across the board, most notably Jay Baruchel's delightful mix of vulnerability and hidden strength along with Gerard Butler's brutish force yet undeniable paternal instincts. America Ferrara also shines as Astrid, while Jonah Hill's turn as Snoutlout provides the film its comic relief.

Fans of Cowell's book and parents seeking positive, subtly value-based entertainment will find much to love about How to Train Your Dragon, a film that features wonderful lessons about the healthy use of strength, friendship and, in surprising abundance, rather obvious lessons about accepting those who are different than yourself including the disabled.

If there is one fault in How to Train Your Dragon, it would lie in the dialogue created by Sanders and DeBlois, dialogue that occasionally borders on Mr. Obvious type statements and quips that arise suddenly and detract slightly from the film's rich humanity. Certain statements seem rather intentionally planted as moral lessons, while the film's ending statements feel just a touch off-kilter as the movie's lessons about equality become just a touch tainted by the way the relationship between the dragons and their human counterparts is resolved.

Despite modest concerns about the script itself, How to Train Your Dragon is easily one of the highlights of early 2010 and a film likely to be as pleasing for parents as it is children. Magnificently rendered and nicely capturing the lessons first penned by Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon should be a healthy hit for the folks at DreamWorks Animation.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
    The Official Rating Guideline
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