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Monday, April 19, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon (***1/2)



How To Train Your Dragon just about has it all: action, wit, a hero's journey, Vikings, and especially dragons. One of the most fun aspects of How To Train Your Dragon is its sheer variety of dragons: two headed fire breathers, fat little dragons, sleek, jet black "night furies", and one honking huge dragon that functions kind of as the Alien Queen in Aliens. The dragons inhabit a series of islands shared with the strangest tribe of Vikings I've ever seen in movies; the Viking children sound and act like average American teenagers but their husky parents all have Scottish accents. The Vikings are lead by the Viking King Stoick (Gerard Butler) and his genial sidekick voiced by Craig Ferguson. Stoick's son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) isn't much of a Viking, though perhaps Stoick naming his son Hiccup set the boy up for underachievement and low expectations. When Hiccup happens upon a dragon he maimed in the Vikings vs. dragons battle that opens the movie, he forms a friendship and understanding with the dragon, which he names Toothless, and becomes the first Viking to domesticate and ride a dragon. The cinematography and animation design are fantastic, with thrilling sequences of Hiccup and his tough girl companion Astrid (America Ferrara) riding his dragon that rival Avatar's vaunted 3D. I liked that the hero of the story is a smart, compassionate kid and those aspects of his personality are what win the day in the face of dragon-killin' Viking tradition. The movie contains a nice message of understanding and co-existence. The Hangover taught us tigers like pepper but hate cinnamon. How To Train Your Dragon instructs that eels are like cinnamon to dragons. Good to know.