sat 04/04/2020

How to Train Your Dragon | reviews, news & interviews

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon

Thrilling 3D animation adventure about a boy who befriends a dragon

We are in the far north of somewhere, where it's freezing and rains for most of the year. As if the weather isn’t bad enough, the sturdy Viking community of the island of Berk have a pest problem - not mice or foxes, but feral dragons who, with their huge talons and fiery breath, steal their sheep and set fire to their houses as they attack on a regular basis. The opening scenes of How to Train Your Dragon, presented by DreamWorks Animation SKG (Shrek, Madagascar) in 3D, which portrays such an attack, are certainly vivid.
The story by Will Davies, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, Mulan), adapted from Cressida Cowell’s books, concerns Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who is the puny, disappointing son of huge village leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). As Stoick and other outsize men take on the invading dragons, he leaves Hiccup to work in the forge under the tutelage of Gobber (Craig Ferguson), swooning over cool chick Astrid (America Ferrera).

Hiccup disobeys his father and secretly joins the attack, downing one of the most ferocious dragons with his own home-made contraption. But, unable to finish him off, he befriends him and names him Toothless. They learn to trust each other and have some rare old adventures together, but then Stoick decides it’s time for his son to attend dragon-slaying school. Hiccup is a natural because he now knows the dragons’ vulnerabilities and can make pussy cats of them, but then his dad decides they will enter the dragons’ nest and eliminate the creatures once and for all. Hiccup is torn between his village and his new friend, and no one will listen to him - will he win the day? Of course he will.

It’s lively, engrossing stuff - I hardly noticed the film's one-hour, 40-minute length - and its narrative cliches of a father who doesn't believe in his son, who in turn doesn't fit in with his peers and whose love interest barely notices him can be forgiven because it’s so darn entertaining. Even a curious directorial point - the adults have Scottish accents and the youngsters speak in US teen talk - is a witty rather than jarring contrivance (Cowell spent her childhood summers on an island off the west coast of Scotland). The artwork is fantastically detailed (I particularly liked the individual blond hairs on Stoick’s arms and the beginning of Hiccup’s beard ), there are sly jokes for adults and the backroom team have been really inventive in coming up with lots of different kinds of dragons.

And although Hiccup becomes an accomplished dragon wrangler and of course gets the girl, the film - astonishingly, to me - dares to confront some very grown-up issues in its final scenes in a markedly subtle manner. They give parents ample material to explain, should they wish, some important life lessons to their children - that we can’t have it all, and that being nice doesn’t mean being perfect.

The dragon-flying and battle scenes thrillingly utilise 3D technology, the scary bits are enjoyably so (even for weenies) and, judging by the delighted reactions of those around me at a family screening at BFI IMAX in London, the film brings out the dragon-lover in all ages.

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