A boy who is a little different than those around him learns to use his oddity to come of age and help others. Pretty standard kid’s story/book/movie setup, right? But in How to Train Your Dragon, it’s the premise for an engaging, layered movie that blends drama and comedy beautifully and uses 3-D in a way that will set the standard for animated kid flicks.
The story takes place in Berk, a remote, hilly town where ornery, burly Vikings gleefully fight constant attacks from five types of dragons—including one simply known as Night Fury, about which nothing is known. A boy named Hiccup is spectacularly out of place in this scenario. He is the chief’s son but scrawny and given more to thinking his way out of situations than to his tribe’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. When Hiccup encounters an injured Night Fury and takes the time to observe and understand it (along with a feisty female character Astrid, beautifully voiced by America Ferrera), he has the opportunity to change, well, everything about life in Berk.
The movie has a lot to say about the relationship between fathers and sons, particularly when the son is utterly different from the father and a mom (who always greases the wheels of male communication) is not around. There’s also a lovely message about how challenging everything you think you know, though always risky, can also be spectacularly rewarding.
The animation is textured beyond what we’ve seen in previous Dreamworks or Pixar flicks: Hiccup’s dad (voiced by a fantastically growly Gerald Butler) has red hair that looks coarser than Brillo and you can almost feel the Night Fury’s rubbery, bumpy skin on your hands. The movie also takes full advantage of 3-D: Scenes in which Hiccup and his Night Fury, which he names Toothless, fly over the rugged terrain and ocean and into skies that takes turns from foggy to bright blue to pearly orange are jawdroppingly well directed. More than even Avatar, you feel you are twirling, diving, dipping and soaring along with the characters. It’s a thrilling ride.