Copyright © 2010 by Paramount Pictures
In the island of Berk lies a Viking village overwhelmed with many dragon attacks to steal its livestock. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Jay Baruchel), son of the Viking chief, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) hopes to emulate his father’s achievements as a revered dragon slayer himself. Though not as typically built as the other boys, Hiccup excels in forging mechanical contraptions to assist in the village’s defense against the dragons. He manages to bring down one, a rare Night Fury but cannot bring himself to kill it. Setting it free, the young inventor befriends the creature and begins to study its true nature, a side seen by none until now. With that knowledge, Hiccup hopes he will be able to convince the villagers of their unwarranted fear and thus uniting a peaceful cohabitation between men and beasts.
DreamWorks Animation has always been defined by the success of its ‘Shrek’ quadrilogy (the first two anyway). The original introduces pop culture into a mainstream animated feature and connected with filmgoers of all ages via a witty script bolstered with familiar references from past to present classics. A rare combination of cartoon and parody, it is the antithesis to Disney’s faintly saccharine-coated ‘princess looking for love’ stories. It rewrites character stereotypes, reiterates physical beauty is only skin deep and begins the ongoing equality movement.
For a decade it seems like the green ogre is reigning unchallenged…until now. If ‘Shrek’ is the pinnacle to the studio’s most original and funniest output to date, then ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is deservingly the most stirring of the lot. The animation is rendered beautifully; each dragon has its own unique look equaling just as much significance put on their human counterparts. The Night Fury, Toothless who does not speak at all unlike some of his more eloquent competition uses only his ears and eyes to express his feelings but are captured fittingly humanlike.
The voice work from Baruchel, Butler, America Ferrera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the Vikings with a ‘pest’ problem are particularly memorable. Butler and Ferrera are strong-willed and believable as the quintessential epitome of a fearless alpha in the pack whilst Baruchel and Mintz-Plasse bring a certain level of lovability to their characters’ goofy charm. Hiccup’s wisecracks are never overly cynical and the fact that his neurosis and eccentricity are highlighted as part of his appeal, it comes across as a smart move on advocating the magnitude of always staying true to oneself.
Having already played another remarkable figure as the fearless King Leonidas in ‘300’, Butler’s Stoick is no less intimidating and hulking, successfully capturing the gruffness of a Viking chieftain. Just like his other defining-making role, the tender aspects to his stoic persona are fully realised and weaved organically into the father and son relationship subplot on top of its aforementioned title. The ecologically-inclined tale about an unlikely friendship is cleverly incorporated into some of the niftiest ways Hiccup summons to understand and befriend these fire-breathing beasts.
Things may not have panned out the way they are if directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois had not been involved in the scripting process. As with their other collaboration, ‘Lilo & Stitch’ (one of the more adult-themed efforts from the House of Mouse), the notion of loss is fundamental to one’s growth and a part of growing up. It serves as a reminder for the kids (and adults) to treasure what is dear in a materialistic-dependent society. Rightfully, this leggy hit comes appropriately close to Pixar’s level of intricacy and should not be missed.
Acting (Voice): A
Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language