How to Train your Dragon could also be titled Diary of a Wimpy Viking. It’s a timeless story of a misfit who bumbles along until he winds up saving the day, becoming a hero, winning his father’s respect, and finding his own wings – or, in this case, soaring on the wings of a dragon over dazzling 3-D vistas.
Full of suspense, quirk and adorable dragons, the film – which was adapted from the 2003 British book of the same name – is a charming take on the schlemiel-makes-good story. Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before him, Hiccup, the wimpy Viking, is the town bumbler, a laughing stock who is an embarrassment to his hot-shot warrior dad and most definitely not cut-out for the family business. In a village under constant siege from dragons, Hiccup is the first Viking in 300 years who doesn’t want to fight back.
In a last-ditch effort to prove himself worthy, Hiccup manages to shoot one down. But when he finds that he’s only wounded the dragon – not killed it – Hiccup realizes he’s not capable of being a killer. So begins a series of sweet and unrushed scenes where Hiccup nurses the dragon – whom he names Toothless – back to health. In the process, Hiccup finds a kindred spirit and gets to know the secret life of dragons (it turns out that they’re far from nightmarish beasts, despite being snaggle-toothed and bug-eyed). Like the monsters of Monsters Inc., they couldn’t really scare a fly. (Note: Toddlers may be frightened by the dragons in the beginning – before we find out they’re cute and cuddly).
The bond between Toothless and Hiccup is truly touching. Both characters risk their own safety to protect the other, and their connection is all the more affecting because it’s wordless. Toothless, like the rest of the dragons, is not anthropomorphized. While actors like Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Craig Ferguson provide wonderfully textured voices to the Vikings, the filmmakers showed merciful restraint in not turning the dragons into a wise-acre menagerie of Disney side-kick critters.
The animation is also amazing – with details right down to the last barnacle. The dragons are the movie’s eye-candy, coming – like their McDonalds Meal counterparts – in gorgeous colors like tropical birds. As Hiccup glides through the I-Maxed horizon, the scenery of purple skies and pink clouds is stunning. With a dragon’s eye view, we fly through gorgeous craggy rock formations that rise from the sea. Like Avatar, which used exhilarating aerial maneuvers (on dragons as well) and fiery battle scenes to urge intergalactic peace, How to Train your Dragon delivers its peacenik message with the adrenaline-rush of air battle. Fire-breathing dragons, medieval projectile weaponry and dragon dive-bombing provide edge-of-seat suspense. But don’t worry – the action sequences are well-balanced with funny and touching scenes from the emotional life of 11-year-old Hiccup.
So much of the best of children’s literature and film revolves around the special bond between a child and the animal he or she saves, befriends or tames (Black Beauty, Free Willy, etc.). For kids, these types of films confirm their belief that young people have talents that grown-ups don’t possess and that Mom and Dad don’t always know best. In How to Train Your Dragon, that idea unfolds as a thrilling adventure mystery, a sweet friendship story and a call to lay down our swords and shields.
Babble is giving away 5 four-packs of Imax tickets for How to Train Your Dragon plus signed posters!
Click here to enter!