How to Train Your Dragon

Movie review: 'How to Train Your Dragon': 3-D you can sink your teeth into

Young Vikings Astrid and Hiccup take to the sky aboard Toothless the dragon in the animated film "How to Train Your Dragon."
Young Vikings Astrid and Hiccup take to the sky aboard Toothless the dragon in the animated film "How to Train Your Dragon." (Dreamworks Animation)
By Mike Clark
Friday, March 26, 2010

At a time when Hollywood seems to be releasing everything this side of Dead Sea Scrolls documentaries in 3-D, "How to Train Your Dragon" is a briskly paced computer-animated entertainment that uses the format to maximum effect, the way "Avatar" does.

Our hero, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), is a young Viking who has his hurdles cut out for him. As he learns to confront his fears (and the dragon he's supposed to kill), the screen payoff is perpetually in our face, but in a good way. At one point, a flying dragon zooms us in and around seaside cliffs in a dazzling display of computer-generated effects that captures all the excitement of a rodeo ride.

Hiccup's father, a burly giant named Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler), sports a belt-length red beard and looks as if he begins each day by downing a dozen mead shooters on his way out to slay scaly adversaries. His far more tentative adolescent offspring and heir apparent thinks he may have a more rational approach to the problem.

Viewed strictly as a father-son conflict over just how high-octane testosterone should be, this notably good-humored screen version of Cressida Cowell's children's novel is as traditional as it can get. Hiccup develops his own approach to dealing with the dragon threat; he prefers communication and attempts to help all scaly creatures find their inner Puff (-the-Magic).

With a school assignment hanging over him to slay a dragon, Hiccup instead befriends a potential victim, Toothless. Despite the name, T. is no pushover -- but the seafood platter Hiccup serves up (from the surf a few feet away) helps. Hiccup also receives mentoring from the local peg-legged blacksmith (voice of Craig Ferguson, this yarn's No. 1 mirth-maker).

Cowell's sassy 2003 novel packed itself with anti-Hiccup insult humor and occasionally capitalized words in emphatic fonts, as if to prep young readers for a later appreciation of Tom Wolfe. By this standard alone, the movie seems tamer, though Hiccup remains a target of peer putdowns.

The screen rendering also adds a skinny blond tomboy trainee (voice of America Ferrera as Astrid) who eventually buys into a Hiccup philosophy that shows its limitations during a fierce finale with a toothy clomper who just won't reason.

Filmmakers Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders are best known for 2002's Hawaii-set "Lilo & Stitch," which was so pleasingly bathed in oceanic blues it made you want to put an umbrella in your concession stand soda. This one is better -- and even for those seeing it on a flat screen -- funnier. But it's the "3" that truly puts the "D" in "Dragon."

Clark is a freelance reviewer.

*** PG. At area theaters. Contains sequences of intense action and scary images, plus brief mild language. 90 minutes.

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