Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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The young Viking, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), wants to join his town's fight against the dragons. However, his macho father and village leader, Stoik the Vast, will not allow his small, clumsy, but inventive son to do so. Regardless, Hiccup ventures out into battle and downs a mysterious Night Fury dragon with his invention, but can't bring himself to kill it. Instead, Hiccup and the dragon, whom he dubs Toothless, begin a friendship that would open up both their worlds as the observant boy learns that his people have misjudged the species. Also starring the voices of Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig & Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
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Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

-- Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: February 25, 2011
Directed by: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy

"How to Train Your Dragon" is an amusing and heartfelt adventure set in a fictional land of Vikings and dragons. A young boy called Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is one of the weakest Vikings in the land, but he finds happiness and friendship with the most powerful of the dragon types that raid his village.

Hiccup, Astrid (America Ferrera) and the other children of the village constantly train to learn to fight off dragon attacks and defend their home. Hiccup's father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), is ashamed of his weak son and only wants him to grow up and become a real Viking hero. Stoick begins to see the making of a hero in his son as the friendship between the young Hiccup and the dragon, named "Toothless" due to his ability to withdraw his teeth, grows. Even though the hardened Viking has suffered at the hands of the dragons and does not know what brings on the change in the young lad.

The voice acting by Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler is topnotch. The voices lend themselves well to the characters, even if Baruchel sounds a little old for his character. America Ferrera, as Hiccup's apparent love interest, is equally well voiced, and the additional cast of friends and family Vikings all lend additional weight to the excellence of the voice-acting cast.

The animation flows smoothly whether it involves portraying dragons as heartless sheep-stealing and house-burning machines or as cuddly pets. The latter becomes very important as Hiccup tries to convince the other children, and ultimately the older Vikings, of the importance of working with the dragons. The initial dragon attack is an excellent example of providing just enough on-screen action to keep things fast paced and exciting without revealing too much of the creatures. Later scenes involving the flight of dragons or the training of the children stay true to this, offering just enough action and excitement to bring viewers into the picture as a whole.

The excellent prowess of the two directors shines through their choices of camera angles and ways to animate the movie's more stunning effects. The dragons are portrayed as fearsome and cuddly at the same time, much in the way that a cat with fangs and claws can still be adorable when not hissing and biting. The design of Hiccup and the other Viking children indicates not only their age or gender but also the way they present themselves to others. Clothing choices, stances and even the way they walk all emphasize the strengths and weaknesses of each of the characters. This is rarely accomplished in animated films and is a hallmark of the best.

The largest potential drawback of the film is the speed at which the plot emerges and then races towards its conclusion. The early parts of the film, while setting the stage for what's to come, occasionally get bogged down in little details that are ultimately unimportant in the movie's scope. The choice to start the film in the middle of the action is an excellent one, but the pause after the action drags on for a bit longer than necessary. This makes the exhilarating rush toward the discovery of Hiccup's friendship with the dragons more potent but causes occasional disconnects because of to pacing issues.

Two minor plot flaws also tarnish an otherwise amazing film experience. The first is the willingness of the Viking children to lay down their arms and embrace the dragons, especially after the viewer sees just how important tradition is to the characters. The second is the inclusion of what seems an unnecessary big, bad monster at the conclusion of the film. The monster appears to be there to help the other Vikings come to love the more adorable creatures but ultimately serves to remind the villagers that some dragons are just big, scary eating machines.
These few drawbacks do not take away from the film as a whole, and the entirety of the film is fun from beginning to end. Occasional pacing stutters and plot holes aside, the movie stands well on its own as another excellent animated feature. The interaction between the characters, both human and dragon, is honest and heartfelt. That's more than can be said about many nonanimated movies and what makes this film stand tall in a crowded field of animated adventures.

"How to Train Your Dragon" is a fun romp for children of all ages and well worth viewing for the whole family.

Rating 4 out of 5