Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks' best film to date by a country mile

Pop quiz hotshots! What’s the best received movie of the year thus far? Kick Ass maybe? Nope. How about more grown-up fare like Shutter Island, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or The Lovely Bones? Not even close. Perhaps Twi-hards have hacked into the system and given Eclipse a completely non-hysterical early review? Thankfully no.

Perhaps the title of this review has given you a clue. That’s right, with a whopping 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the only kids film this year to sound like a euphemism for male masturbation is the winner (although the forthcoming Furry Vengeance also has a hilariously tittersome ring to it).

And we’re adding another big thumbs up to Dragon’s impressive haul of positive positivity.

Hiccup is a pretty rubbish viking. His lame Viking-ness is made much worse by the fact that his dad, Stoick (Gerard Butler) is the daddy of all Vikings and chief dragon slayer. When Hiccup downs one of the toughest dragon’s of all no-one in the village believes him. That is until he feeds, tickles, tames and flies the beast leading to the blurring of the line between human and dragon. But will the villagers, least of all his father, be happy at this new union?

It must be a fairly tough existence being a part of the Dreamworks Animation Factory. Yes, people enjoy their movies but deep, deep down every one of them must secretly have a resume handy to fax to Pixar in the vain hope of working for the best in the land. The temptation to copy the leaders in animation must also be strong, while the reluctance to follow them pixel for pixel can only put their product back as they look for a different approach.

This has always been my beef with Dreamworks from Shrek to Kung Fu Panda. Their films are far too cynical, especially for their target audience. How To Train Your Dragon, on the other hand, is as heartfelt and moving as anything from the House Of Mouse. Being so, it’s also their best by a country mile.

The voice-work is no longer stunt casting, as it has been in the past, with the lead going to the relatively unknown Jay Baruchel (the Led Zep groupie of Almost Famous fame) and Gerard’s part given to him purposefully because he can do a good Scottish brogue (because all Vikings are Scottish, apparently). The support cast of Superbad alumni Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse never feels out of place, either.

Gone are the sarcastic one-liners, replaced by some genuinely funny slapstick. From when Hiccup first encounters Toothless (his name for the new pet) and all the subsequent dragon/human interaction that follows, the jokes are straight fom the Pixar ‘more than words’ handbook. As for the flight scenes, it’s really not too far off the majesty of Avatar, sweeping and soaring over seas and forests. You’ll believe a dragon can fly.

As for the mild peril that adorns the movie poster there’s nothing particularly mild about it. Toothless may have big, dreamy eyes and tiny retractable teeth but some of the other beasts are enough to get St. George shitting in his chain-mail. When the true foe rears it’s scaly head, children and adults alike will be quivering in their glasses.

It may still be a little way off the Wall-E‘s and Up‘s, but Dreamworks new-found anti-cynicism is the way forward. As Pixar only have Toy Story 3 to come, and we all know the danger of three-quels, could this be the year that the Animated Oscar goes somewhere other than Lasseter’s pocket?

8 out of 10

Owen Nicholls

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