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film review: How To Train Your Dragon

by Leonard Maltin
March 26, 2010 4:00 AM
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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.

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  • George | February 4, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    This is a sweet, romantic action-packed movie with a lot of humor and not just for the kids. If you liked The emperor's new groove, you'll love this one. Witty humor, likable main characters (dragon kinda resembles Stitch, anyone noticed?) and an unconventional story until the (predictable) happy ending. Not flawless, but nevertheless very, very good.

  • Clint Hopfe | December 31, 2010 8:19 AMReply

    I'll probably get some bashing, but I was ultimately disappointed with this one. There was nothing special at all to me. The hero was an unlikable wimp, the rest of the characters were cliche and bland, and the story didn't break any new ground. I liked the dragons, two of the vikings voiced by Craig Ferguson and Gerald Butler, and the animation was cool, but that's it. It just wasn't anything new for Dreamworks.

  • Jason | April 6, 2010 10:30 AMReply

    I'm glad someone else noticed the story-trends in animated movies lately (especially involving younger main characters) seem to be running together and eventually end the same way.

  • Steven | April 3, 2010 1:09 AMReply

    Great movie. I need to go see it again to get the taste of Clash of the Titans out of mouth. This is a movie I will see at least once more at the theater prior to buying the DVD.
    I really did hate Clash of the Titans, but I will try to resist trashing it on everything I write.

  • Shadoe Stevens | March 29, 2010 10:02 AMReply

    I'm trying to find contact information for Leonard. Hey, Leonard, I'd like to speak to you.
    Your dearest and closest most personal friend,
    Shadoe Stevens

  • Mary Carpenter | March 29, 2010 6:33 AMReply

    Dear Mr. Maltin,
    First of all I want to tell you how much I enjoy your Movie Guide. I just got the 2010 edition as a Christmas gift. I use it quite often.
    I recently watched the 1952 movie Monkey Business and was so surprised to see Dabbs Greer driving Ginger Rogers in a cab when later in his career a Ginger Rogers movie would be playing in the Green Mile. The little things you notice in movies make them so fascinating
    Mary Carpenter.

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