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No matter how he tries, Hiccup just canít fit in.  The small, stickly Hiccup is the son of Stoick, the mighty chief of their Viking clan.  The boy is more meant for academic pursuits than marauding and raiding dragon hideouts, yet thatís what his people do and Hiccup is going to make himself into the son his father wants him to be.  During a nighttime attack on the village, Hiccup jumps into the action believing heís spotted a Night Fury, the rarest of the pantheon of dragons.  Unfortunately for Hiccup, his attempt to capture this deadliest of flying lizards not only appears to fall short but nearly burns down the town.  His grand failure makes Hiccup determined to be a slayer like his old man and he takes up dragon training with the rest of the clanís teens.  Itís only after his first session shows him to be utterly unfit for any kind of slaying does Hiccup discover heís not as bad at hunting dragons as he thought.  

In the depths of a valley, an inky black figure lies bound and helpless, tied in the net of ropes Hiccup shot the night before.  Hiccup can now redeem himself by being the only Viking in history to slay a Night Fury, but his kind heart wonít let him and he frees his prey.  He later discovers the dragon is wounded from his attack and Hiccup uses his inventing smarts to try to win the dragonís trust and set the big lizard up with a prosthetic tailfin.  His growing closeness to the oversize reptile, whose retractable fangs have Hiccup erroneously dubbing him Toothless, gives the boy an understanding of dragons that none of his Viking clan possess.  This also gives him a big edge in training and soon Hiccup is miles beyond his peers and the most popular boy in the neighbourhood, delighting his father for the first time.  Knowing his secret about Toothless canít go undiscovered much longer, Hiccup decides to reveal the reasons for his sudden dragon mastery and his unwillingness to kill the clanís long-sworn enemies, once again making him an outcast and shaming him in the eyes of his dad.  Not taking the disappointment at all well, Stoick captures Toothless and against Hiccupís pleas, uses him to track down the legendary dragonís nest; a place so scary, not even dragons want to go there.  Hiccup knows the proud Viking has bitten off more than he can chew and before his entire village gets chewed by the enormous queen (king?) bee of the dragon world and sent to Valhalla, he gathers his fellow dragon trainees to work with the dragons to save their clan.

How to Train Your Dragon has all the elements of what makes an animated movie work for the entire family.  Broad enough in its comedy to include slapstick for the little ones, the filmmakers throw in a hilarious moment about the origin of a Hiccupís new helmet not entirely meant for the kiddies.  The relationship between Toothless and Hiccup is very sweet.  The action is exhilarating and Hiccupís flights over the clouds on the back of his new friend are rendered beautifully as are all the designs and backgrounds.  Weíre given a sense of the freedom and power of what one imagines a dragon in flight to have, similar to Harryís jubilant ride on the back of Buckbeak the Hippogriff in 2004ís Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  The drawings are so textured that when Hiccup and his rival in training, Astrid sail through the clouds, you can practically feel the coolness and condensation around them.  The Viking elders are depicted as a mix of Asterix and Hagar the Horrible, while Hiccup and his friends look fairly up-to-date, even twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut look like a pair of metalheads with their long blonde locks and horned helmets.  Petite Astrid dresses like a teenage Xena, Warrior Princess, right down to her Ugg-patterned snow boots.  Great designs also make up the wacky roguesí gallery of dragons:  The boil-covered Gronkle resembles a giant grub with wings.  The Deadly Nadder is the beaky, colourful parrot of the reptile world.  The Terrible Terrors are little gecko-like fellows that resemble a tweaked-out Spyro whose burst of flame really packs a punch.  The two heads of the serpentine Hideous Zippleback work in tandem; one breathing gas and the other lighting it.  The reptile who shall not be named in the legendary dragonís nest is a perverse mix of the Cloverfield thing and the glimpses of the Kraken from Warner Brothersí upcoming Clash of the Titans remake.  Toothless is a great looking creature, kind of like an expensive looking Pokťmon crossed with a bat.  Heís made of anime cuteness with a hilariously expressive face featuring huge feline eyes the day-glo colour of anti-freeze and textured skin meant to look like leather or scales, but closer to the shiny nubbed fabric found on Beanie Babies.  Heís fierce enough for boys to consider cool, but huggable enough for girls.  Once Hiccup becomes close enough to study him, he sees that Toothlessí behaviour is more like a giddy kitten than the ferocious monsters of clan lore and the dragonís devotion to Hiccup would put the most loyal puppy to shame.

Jay Baruchel as Hiccup first brought to mind the voice of Mike Myers, but strangely in a land where all the Vikings have Scottish accents and Hiccup and his younger set didnít, I was sure that couldnít be right.  Gerard Butlerís casting as Hiccupís brave father Stoick (- Not just a name, but a way of life.), might be the best thing heís done since 300.  He and fellow Scot Craig Ferguson as Gobber, Stoickís right hand man - without a right-hand, or foot - deliver the slyly offhand humour brilliantly, with Butler putting real feeling into this gruff single parent who loves his son but canít find a way to cross the gap between them.

How to Train Your Dragon hasnít the emotional pull of Up, nor the edgy aesthetics of Coraline or 9 {all from 2009}, but it is an enjoyable time at the movies.  In this dry season of back-of-the-shelf studio castoffs, How to Train Your Dragon is like a breath of fresh air to excite and entertain the kiddies and remind grown-ups of the fun movie going is meant to be.

I feel a franchise coming on.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 25th, 2010

 

 

 

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