By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 26, 2010 at 4:00AM
If you want to see truly effective, creative use of 3-D, run to the nearest theater playing this movie. The folks at DreamWorks Animation know what they’re doing in this arena, and their films are designed with 3-D in mind from the very start; it isn’t an afterthought, and I for one can tell the difference. (Even Monsters vs. Aliens, which I didn’t care for, had terrific 3-D visuals.)
What’s more, How to Train Your Dragon has a neat—
—premise (taken from a series of children’s books by Cressida Cowell) and often-breathtaking execution. Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, best known for their Disney feature Lilo & Stitch, have given the story a highly personal focus. The hero-narrator is a spindly boy named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, in contemporary vernacular) who is the much-maligned son of a Viking warrior known as Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler, with a hearty Scottish brogue). He’s never quite fit in amongst the beefy, aggressive men of his village, and to make matters worse, he befriends a fire-breathing dragon that he actually brought down with one of his hand-made devices. The set-piece of Hiccup and Toothless the dragon first meeting and getting to know each other is one of the movie’s highlights…but it took me a while to realize that Toothless’ face bears a striking resemblance to Stitch of Lilo & Stitch!
Hiccup’s coming-of-age isn’t dramatically different from other stories about wimpy kids, but the way it’s told makes all the difference. Both the characters and the settings are well-designed, and the film is brilliantly directed, as if it were a live-action picture. I can’t help but think that a screen credit for esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins (as Visual Consultant) may have something to do with that.
I was enthralled with How to Train Your Dragon up until the climax. It’s spectacular, but somehow it seemed conventional—and I can’t say that about the rest of the film. This is first-rate family entertainment, and 3-D moviemaking worth paying for—and seeing—on a theater screen.