**Warning this review contains spoilers**
It features vikings and dragons in an epic struggle. There are animated sheep with expressive eyes, and dragons ranging from small and stupid to large and intensely intelligent. The movie is presented in IMAX 3D, and if you have the opportunity to see it in this presentation, I strongly suggest it. 3D effects permeate the entire movie, from bits of ash floating down all around you to the bow of the viking ship emerging from a foggy screen to sail directly at you. Well worth the possible annoyance of the 3D glasses, which easily fit over my normal glasses, and gave me a wonderful show. The theater was packed full of families, as well as the occasional clump of college students. Despite the low average age in the theater, the movie was engaging enough to keep even the most fickle young audience member engaged all the way through.
The story revolves around a viking village, wherein massively strong vikings kill dragons on an almost nightly basis, as their village is raided, and their sheep carried off to provide dinner for hungry dragons. Our hero, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), is a gangly young boy who would much rather be building catapults and other fantastical works of mechanical engineering than be swinging an axe — which he can’t lift anyway. But he’ll do almost anything to get the attention of the girl of his dreams, Astrid (America Ferrera), the toughest of his peers, and also the most beautiful.
Hiccup meets an injured dragon, one of the most rare and dangerous, the Nightfury. Injured as it is, the dragon is unable to leave the valley that it has fallen into. When he fails to find the strength to kill the dragon, Hiccup befriends it, and they learn about each other. Meanwhile, Hiccup starts training with the other viking kids his age to learn how to kill dragons. He spends his days pretending to be a normal viking, and his afternoons and evenings learning to fly with a dragon, and learning about what dragons like. Days become disabling dragons without killing them, using the tricks he’s learned with his dragon friend, rather than by killing them, or hurting them in any way. Astrid, determined to be a better viking than puny Hiccup, follows him to his afternoon dragon ride. Shocked and appalled, she runs to tell the rest of the village, but is kidnapped by Hiccup and his friend, to show her what it’s like to fly. On that jaunt, the Nightfury, nicknamed Toothless, shows Hiccup and Astrid the dragons’ nest. Astrid plants herself firmly on Hiccup’s side, understanding what fantastic beasts the dragons are, and knowing that if anyone ever knew about Hiccup and Toothless, there would be no forgiveness. In fact, the vikings are scandalized when this comes to light, and Stoick, Hiccup’s father (voiced by Gerard Butler) disowns him, restrains his pet dragon, and forces it to help them find the dragons’ nest, leaving Hiccup in the village to watch them sail away, his dragon friend with them.
The movie concludes with a massive battle between vikings and dragons, with Hiccup and his peers playing a major role. When Hiccup and his brigade of viking teenagers arrive, the entire battle turns in favor of the vikings. Hiccup regains the pride of his father and encouragement of the entire viking community, which gives him the strength he needs to bring the battle to its fiery conclusion.
The production of this movie was well above what I expected. The animation was clear and neat, giving the audience the ability to understand the emotions of the characters by their facial expressions and body language alone, which was made even greater by the 3D experience. The casting for the voice actors was impeccably done, with voices like Gerard Butler as a war leader, and Jay Baruchel who made a young, nerdy viking boy come to life. The dragons were animated so cleanly and expressively that the group I went with left the theater in unanimous agreement: We want dragons too!!
How to Train Your Dragon is a wonderful tale that will pull you in, spin you around, and leave you in a place you never thought you’d be. It is the tale of a son, looking for approval from his father, in all of the wrong ways. It is a tale of compromise, where everything is not as it seems. It is a tale of teamwork and friendship, from the least likely sources. This movie has something for the entire family. The humor is accessible to everyone, with intricacies that will intrigue the adult mind, without confusing a child. Overall, How to Train Your Dragon is a strong offering from Dreamworks, I’ll be taking my friends and family out to see it again when it officially releases, and I encourage all of you to see it as well.