Readers of this critic’s reviews of family films on this site may imagine him to be some sort of curmudgeon, who deplores whimsy, kicks puppies, and whose idea of a good time would be a marathon of especially obscure foreign movies. Nothing could be further from the truth. However negative reviews of some kiddie fare here has generated more comment than anything else. Thus let’s get the consumer report out of the way first.
Your children will love “How to Train Your Dragon,” which is based on a popular book. It features a misfit hero named Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) who wants to join his village slaying the dragons that keep attacking them, but is such a klutz he does more harm than good. He stumbles upon an injured dragon and ends up befriending him, eventually learning that the humans and the dragons share a common enemy, and they can work together. Now if he only convince his father and the other grown ups.
Hiccup is an “every kid” hero who finds an unconventional way to save the day, earning the respect of his father, his peers, and the rest of the town. Kids will identify with Hiccup and enjoy the animation which features Hiccup on dragonback soaring and swooping through the sky. For those who insist on paying extra for 3D, it will seem like an exciting ride. So if you haven’t already gone with your elementary school age children, go. Enjoy it.
So, why was this reviewer dissatisfied? The script, which has the right messages, is strictly according to formula. The other apprentice dragon slayers make fun of Hiccup but he eventually wins them over, including a feisty girl slayer. We even get the scene in the climactic battle where everyone thinks Hiccup has paid the ultimate price for freeing the humans and the dragons from the film’s real villain. Try not to spoil it for your kids but is there any doubt what’s going to happen?
There’s also the odd voice cast. Why make a big point that the characters are Vikings when we’ll be listening to the Scottish burr of Craig Ferguson coming out of the mouth of one of the characters? It’s disconcerting. We didn’t need mock Scandinavian accents, but someone might have asked if this was the best match of actor and role.
DreamWorks Animation has done some outstanding and witty animation (“Shrek,” “Over the Hedge,” “Madagascar”) but while the film is technically up to snuff, the characters seem like stock figures tarted up in Viking drag. It’s much better than, say, the “Ice Age” films, but when the standard for American animation is set by Pixar, that’s not good enough. DreamWorks sometimes manages to give Pixar a run for the money. Here they simply come up with a good commercial product. Young viewers and DreamWorks Animation stockholders will be happy, but unfortunately it doesn’t make “How to Train Your Dragon” a film for the ages, only for filmgoers of a certain age.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.