The sad truth of animated films is that they must be positioned as juvenile entertainment. The promotions of How To Train Your Dragon have been twee and that side of creepy cute, but I guess that's what kids today like - I don't know. What I do know is not just that the film is decidedly charming, but also that it has a sweeping visual palette and a certain depth and breadth in its visual language - something brought out brilliantly by 3D.
The plot is not the biggest winner, but it serves decently to advance the fun action and comedy. Hiccup (jay Baruchel) is our great hero - scrawny, and no good in a fight, as well as son of Viking chieftain Stoik (Gerard Butler).
There is a certain breed of dragons that the clan fears and has made a legend of, and Stoik really wants his son to grow up to be worthy of slaying that species.
Hiccup meets one, but surprise, surprise, it has feelings, and they become friends. Predictably, the stand-in girlfriend keeps the secret, and it comes to a point where there is a fight between the clan and the dragons. Ultimately, there is a lot of learning about dragons, remorse, and getting together.
The story, though, is secondary to the pacing of the movie. The pacing is note-perfect, and the visuals are stunningly realized. There are moments of swooping glory, and when the flight scenes kick in, the visual magic is palpable. The flick's action sequences are also visceral and very fun - in scenes reminiscent of the flight sequences of Avatar
, the camera work is solid, and the way the action folds in 3D is very real and immediate.
The writing is fun, too - some of the dialog is funny for a children's film, though it has none of the tiring puns and constant referencing of other Dreamworks movies like Shrek
. Most importantly, the writing supports the characters and their mini arcs. It isn't great drama, but adds certain depth to a well-done flick.
The tempo is well-done, and overall, the action beats come at exactly the right moments. How To Train Your Dragon charts the friendship of boy and dragon, and is also a growing-up tale. On both counts, it succeeds more for kids than for adults, but it is still breezy fun.
If there is anything that detracts from the fun, it is the plot with predictable beats - until the end of course, where a great reveal simply stands out. In any case, directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders of Lilo and Stitch fame clearly understand inter-species friendship, and while the film threatens to be another ET
rehash, they bring enough visual flair to the film to make it work.
Highly recommended if you have anyone below 12 in the household, but a fun time at the movies for those simply interested in great visual delights.