2010 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

From the studio that brought you Shrek comes this animated adaptation of the popular children's novels, set in a mythical world of Vikings and wild dragons. Young viking Hiccup bonds with one of the most dangerous dragons in the land, forming a friendship that could save both species from a much darker threat. Spectacular action scenes, great characters (voiced by the likes of Gerard Butler, David Tennant, and America 'Ugly Betty' Ferrera) and beautiful animation make this a contender for the best dragon film ever made.

Directors

  • Dean Deblois

  • Chris Sanders

Cast

  • Gerard Butler

  • Craig Ferguson

  • Jonah Hill

  • Kristen Wiig

Review

Ironically enough, dragon movies have never really set the world on fire.

From the mammoth anti-climax of the much-hyped Eragon to the grim, miserable and borderline remedial Reign of Fire, there hasn't really been a classic dragon film since the joyfully whimsical Pete's Dragon way back in 1977.

How To Train Your Dragon however, manages to swoop and soar a fine line between the two; full of dazzling, spectacular wonderment but with enough intelligence, humour and bolshy action to entertain kids and adults alike.

Genetic underdog Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) constantly struggles to live up to the dragon-slaying expectations of his father and their Viking village; a township so testosterone-d up to the eyeballs that dying in battle is merely "an occupational hazard" and names like Stoick The Vast are par for the course.

Haphazardly, Hiccup downs one of the most mythical dragons of all, the Night Fury, but rather than delivering the finishing blow his peers would so expect, he secretly befriends the beast, christens him Toothless, and discovers there is an alternative to the bloodshed and warfare between the two warring species.

What sounds cheesy in synopsis masterfully sidesteps cliche thanks to a number of charming performances, specifically between teacher's pet Astrid (imagine Hermione Granger on steroids, armed with an axe), Hiccup and Toothless.

Toothless is an intriguing mixture of canine faithfulness and temperamental, playful cattiness, bouncing off and absorbing Hiccup's characteristics, resulting in a devoted, symbiotic relationship with more than a hint of Lilo and Stitch about it.

Fans of the children's novels may be in for a bit of a shock as there are some noticeable differences (Hiccup can't talk to the dragons, and he meets Toothless as a teenager).

But with the producer of Toy Story, and two ex-Pixar bods behind the directorial helm, each revision and refinement only serves to enrich the storytelling and ensure that at no point does the pace drag-on.

Directors DeBlois and Sanders admitted that their use of 3D was inspired by Coraline and it shows; generally serving to accentuate rather than overwhelm each and every scene, while the signature, blockbuster dragon-riding flying scenes are easily as engrossing, pulsating and spectacular as Avatar's flights of fancy.

The bewilderingly epic finale hammers home why How To Train Your Dragon works so well: full of humour, (dragon) heart, and with a real sense of peril and consequence for the characters you've so quickly grown to love, it's guaranteed to leave you breathless.

Undoubtedly Dreamworks' best film yet, and quite probably the best dragon movie ever made.

Matt Risley