Movie Review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

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“It’s an occupational hazard” for a critic every time they write a review. Waiting for the complaints, critiques, corrections (yes that jab is to you, mom) or the occasional rave from those who read their reviews. For the Vikings, the hazard would be marauders, the elements, drowning at sea or if you are living on the Isle of Berk, dragons. Welcome to the world Cressida Cowell created and Dreamworks Animations has brought to the screen, “How to Train Your Dragon” 3D.

Cowell has created a world based on her growing up in a small Isle off the coast of Scotland. It is set with Vikings living in Berk for some 7 generations (300 years) and yet the houses are always new. This is because the small hamlet is constantly besieged by the dragons coming in to take their livestock and any food they have available. The Vikings being the fearsome and fighting bunch they are fight for anything especially their homes and for family. The only hiccup (pun intended) in this little village is the Chief’s son, Hiccup. Hiccup is a young Viking who wants to slay dragons but doesn’t quite measure up to standards, so he uses his wit and creative ingenuity to try and fit in.

Bringing this heartening and soulful tale to the screen is the dynamic trio of directors/screenplay of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stich) and producer Bonnie Arnold (Over the Hedge, Tarzan). Their clan is brought to life vocally by a star studded cast; Hiccup, the over achieving, mechanically inclined, sensitive Viking played by Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), Stoick, the chief of the clan of Berk voiced by Gerard Butler (The Bounty Hunter, Law Abiding Citizen), Gobber, the blacksmith/dragon warrior trainer who’s missing a few parts, voiced by Craig Ferguson (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Drew Carey Show), and Astrid, the strong willed in both body and mind of what a dragon slaying Viking should be voiced by America Ferrera (Ugly Betty, Our Family Wedding). This, by no means puts anything past the rest of the supporting characters voiced by Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs, T.J. Miller as Tuffnut and Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut. Some of the artisans doing their diligent role are writers Adam F. Goldberg (Aliens in the Attic, Fanboys) and Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, Just Like Heaven), whimsically strung together with the musical elements of John Powell (Hancock, Kung Fu Panda).

On this Isle of Berk, Hiccup (Baruchel) is the son of Stoick (Butler), the chief and head dragon slayer. Their little place in the middle of the sea is seemingly always under attack by dragons and must be defended by everyone, except Hiccup. It seems that even though everyone is either combating the dragons or providing support, no one wants Hiccup around as he tends to cause more bad things to happen. With that in mind Stoick always has him in their home or helping Gobber (Ferguson) keep everyone’s weapons good and ready. All Hiccup wants to do is slay a dragon and be like everyone else. He may not have the muscle to do it but he does use his intellect to build a dragon slaying weapon, something untested of course and looks like it will cause more damage. Upon trying out the new weapon it looks as though he has succeeded. Granted in doing so another dragon almost lays waste to the village chasing Hiccup and his father comes to the rescue. Stoick shows Hiccup the damage he has created and tells him ‘THIS’, pointing to Hiccup, is not meant to be like the other Vikings. Hiccup sets out to find the dragon he possibly injured, killed or captured to finish business and prove himself to everyone including his father. This is where we see the true nature of this wonderful story.

Dean and Chris are master storytellers, it’s part of their past as having been part of Disney for so many years. Taking the settings and characters Cressida has created in her book series and using CGI animation with 3D technologies your mind is in for an adventure. I had the pleasure of talking with some of the cast and crew just after the showing and asked Bonnie how she could keep control of such creativity with this trio. “Just three? Try more like 300! There is amazing group of artisans, technicians, and such that are part of this amazing project.” It is deservedly said by Bonnie that they are just as much to be recognized once you see this film and I wholeheartedly agree. The flowing of the scenes, the detail the animators take in the smallest details goes to show you how passionate these individuals are about their work. Dean expressed, when being brought onto the project, the day some of the animators came in to show them a test of Stoick’s beard. “These guys came in and were like, ‘YOU GOT TO SEE THIS!’ They were so proud at all theses thousands of little elements that make up his beard have a life of their own.” It truly is in the detail that this film flourishes. From Stoick’s beard to the skin on Toothless, Hiccups dragon, detail was high on everyone’s mind. Detail went into all aspects, from characters to the many species of dragons we see in the film. If any fault, if you could call it a fault, would be in the dragon Toothless. For those of you that follow Chris’ work you will see a resemblance to many of his past characters. That aside, when you go to see this, whether in 3D or tradition 2D, sit back relax and enjoy the way it draws you into their world.

After the smoke from the fire has settled, the mist from the ocean lands and the air whistles by, you take this away from the film; everyone has their own ‘this’. ‘This’ is who you are, what makes you the person you are in life. We sometimes try and change ‘this’ to fit someone else’s definition of ‘this’ and it just doesn’t seem right. Use what you know to show people that each one of us can have our own ‘this’ and still live as one. In the workforce, in relationships, in families, ‘this’ is what makes us unique as humans. As Hiccup just wanted to prove to his father, his friends, his dragon, that his ‘this’ matters and has a place, so do we throughout our lives. Watching films, as this one did to me, reminds me of how much they can mirror our own lives just a little, I am Hiccup and Stoick is a combination of my Father and Step Dad. I never felt I could measure up to either of their ideals of what I would become but I found my own ‘this’ and excelled. Enjoy life, live it to its fullest. With that I leave you all to do as you do best when reading my review, form your own opinion, which is my “occupational hazard”.

P.S. Mom, I’ll be waiting for those corrections. Love you.

(Watch the Trailer by clicking the play button)