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How to Train Your Dragon

Movie Title: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Spoilers: none

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How to Train Your Dragon - despite having a title that is more fit for a reviewer's review of it than the movie - is an awesome film for a plentitude of reasons, not the least of which being that it involves Vikings. Vikings are cool for their horned helmets alone, not to mention their facial hair, fighting, or berserker’s rages, or their sheer sizable presences. The way they carry their mugs can be a status symbol by itself.

To connect with the coolness of the Viking theme, you needn’t know about Erik the Red or his son Leif and their journeys establishing the first Nordic settlement. If you fail to connect with the aforementioned, try learning about a Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel). 

On the small, dragon-infested island of Berk, the seafaring, land-conquering Vikings have their hands full as they strive to fight off hungry, fire-breathing dragons. The story of their plight is made all the more interesting, not by a hardened, entrails-slashing fighter, but by one boy who has no fighting experience or the courage to slaughter a beast.

Hiccup is the unfit and unusually small-framed son of Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler), the proud leader of the tribe. As a disappointment to his father and people, he is the least to look up to for a combat-obsessed but accomplished people like the Vikings. What has he to offer a bloodthirsty and brutish culture?

Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) is the girl he has a crush on, but she is in young warrior’s school with him and four other students who prefer to assert themselves like their burly fathers and mothers. They have each of their sights set on being the first to take down a Night Fury, the unseen and most deadly of dragons, a thing no Viking has ever done. Hiccup doesn’t show signs of promise in combat, and combat is what Astrid is interested in.

In a society where you must kill to get ahead, how is Hiccup ever going to attract a mate and win the favor of his people? His prospects are bleak until something happens that puts him in a position to learn a thing or two about dragons that will forever change the course of his people’s history.

How to Train Your Dragon is as well written as it is well animated. The subtleties of facial expressions and demeanors are more real than if the most talented actor put them on display. As nicely done is the unassuming voice-work, with no one trying too hard to leave personal impressions.

There are large amounts of combat violence and parts that may prove too scary for very young viewers, but despite talk of killing and slaying, there is no visible bloodshed or graphic depictions of mortality.

The Viking people (who are occasionally seen to call upon and thank Odin) have surely never been seen so heartwarmingly portrayed in animation, but that is probably true of the dragons as well. With great emotional and mental investment, the viewer will come to love both camps.

Paced perfectly, you will find creative visual stimulation in seeing Dragon’s lairs and various types of dragons, Viking celebrations and traditions, and pages from Viking books in Viking-style writing. Your only wonder while getting to know them as they live their lives—what will come of dragons and humans? Can they ever interact?

How to Train Your Dragon is as close as one can come to a flawless film, one that makes you forget you’re a critic by simply being all-round irresistible. It has much to say about the fact that our greatest fears often lie in what we don’t understand or are not willing to take the time to learn about.

Additional voice talents include the likes of Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller. Here is a DreamWorks film that unexpectedly rivals the animation champion, Pixar, although this film has the odd distinction of being prefaced by trailers that don’t make it look like a great movie. But I have not a doubt in my mind that this will be the one to beat in the race for 2010's Best Movie of the Year.

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: PG (for depictions of violence and terror)
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Summary: A hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons befriends one and begins to learn their ways.
Starring: Jay Baruchel "Hiccup" (voice), Gerard Butler "Stoick" (voice), Craig Ferguson "Gobber" (voice), America Ferrera "Astrid" (voice), Jonah Hill "Snotlout" (voice), Christopher Mintz-Plasse "Fishlegs" (voice), T.J. Miller "Tuffnut" (voice), Kristen Wiig "Ruffnut" (voice)
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy / Family / Fantasy
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