How to Train Your Dragon * * * 1/2

Genre: Fantasy / Animation

Directors:  Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois

Writers: Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, based on the book How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Voice Cast: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristin Wiig, David Tennant

Running Length: 98 minutes

Synopsis: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (Jay Baruchel) feels like a fish out of water in the Viking village of Berk. Although his father and village chief, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) is a veteran dragon hunter, Hiccup prefers to spend his time designing gadgets and pining for spunky village girl Astrid (America Ferrera). However, Stoick makes the decision to have Hiccup train with the blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson) on attacking dragons, despite his protests. At the same time, Hiccup chances upon an injured dragon in the woods and attempts to bond with it. He soon learns that the Viking-dragon feud could be nothing more than a misunderstanding, and that dragons are not as fearsome as they are thought to be.

Review: Dreamworks Animation has almost always played second fiddle to Pixar in the realm of computer animated movies, and since the excellent Shrek, there has never really been another Dreamworks film that could come close to any of Pixar’s films. This changes with the release of How to Train Your Dragon, which is an excellent film in many aspects, and quite possibly a very strong contender for the best animated film of the year (yes, kind of a big statement given that both Shrek 4 and Toy Story 3 are due in cinemas soon).

How to Train Your Dragon is a quintessential family film – although it offers something for the kids (though there are certain scarier portions that may not be all that suitable for the very young), the film is also engaging enough for the parents and other adult audiences. The visuals are colourful and fun, and this is the first film that I’ve watched in 3D since Avatar that seems to be worth the price of admission, and really helps to make the experience a more immersive one. Coincidentally, there are some similarities to Avatar apart from the 3D experience, but none intentionally so, I am sure.

The storyline follows a basic formula – outcast kid makes good and allows others to see the error of their ways – but the story is well-told and the clichés don’t matter as much. It helps that the dragons, initially portrayed as vicious creatures, turn out to be rather harmless and adorable (one word: kittens!), greatly enhancing the cuteness quotient of the movie. The main voice cast is also rather accomplished, and despite the strange choice of having many of the characters speak with a Scottish accent, everything works very well together.

How to Train Your Dragon has ticks in almost every box of the checklist – the movie looks good in both 2D and 3D, there are some thrilling (but some running a tad long) action sequences, the voice acting ranges from good to great, and the “take-home” family values message is a very positive one that parents would certainly endorse.  In a sea of mediocre releases, How to Train Your Dragon stands head and shoulders above many recent films, and if you’re hankering for a good 3D experience, then this would probably be your best bet.

Rating:  * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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