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Review – How To Train Your Dragon

With the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language. 98 minutes.

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.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.

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About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

6 responses »

  1. Perhaps you’re just looking at this in the wrong light.
    Sure, you think the storytelling is cookie-cutter, but you have to think in terms of the target audience. How many children in the audience know ‘the formula’ that you set so much store by? How many have seen more than one or two movies in their lives?
    As far as the characters, they were designed to be funny, not vikings. What people seem to forget is that the vikings were bloody killers! Not funny at all. That Dreamworks didn’t stick to the facts about vikings should come as no surprise.
    As far as the standard of animation goes, you’re looking at the wrong characters. The main characters that you should be looking at are the dragons. The attention to detail of Toothless’ face is amazing, and shows more expression and thought than I have seen in Pixar’s films to date.
    Dreamworks did a great job, and while I don’t like (literally) any of their other animations, this one is up to par.

    Reply
  2. As someone who loved this movie I suppose it comes as no surprise that I disagree with your negative outlook on the film. I found that the story (while typical) was so full of unique twists and turns that I stopped caring that I could probably predict what was coming next.

    I enjoyed this film more than many of Pixar’s films (namely ‘Cars,’ and anything ‘Toy Story’) and after this I am officially a DreamWorks fan.

    Reply
    • I also think you’re being a little hard on the “according to formula” script; in fact I found it quite refreshing after seeing so many movies of the same type that run off of long chains of satirical, random gag jokes *e.g. Shrek 3*. Despite staying true to a typical plot structure the story seemed effortless and enchanting (plus a true visual treat), making it unnecessary to create lots of “over the kids’ heads jokes” in order to entertain the older crowd.

      Reply
  3. WanderedHerefromRottenTomatoes

    If you haven’t seen the movie (all three of you), then skip this comment.

    Can you not say that having a character come out of the story alive is a must for a children’s film?

    Can you not, in the same breath, say that the hero coming out wounded in a visually profound and permanent way nearly unheard of?

    I can’t think of a movie in which bolt doesn’t jump free or Woody doesn’t get back to his boy perfectly OK. I would be happy to show my kids this movie over and over again – simply because when the hero does dangerous stuff, he gets hurt. He saves the day, he had to do it, but no matter how noble it was, there are consequences.

    Where has Pixar ever shown this?

    Reply
    • WanderedherefromRottenTomatoes:

      Completely agree. How many times have we seen the hero of a kids movie auctally lose something to win? It rarely if ever happens and it was very refreshing.

      Reply
  4. I love this movie SO much, and while I agree with you on the slightly stereotypical-ness of some aspects, I’d argue that this was the best movie Dreamworks has come out with to date. The animation was amazing, and while the plot was fairly stereotypical, I think the dialog and general character of the movie made up for it. Just my opinion.

    Reply

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