In a very short amount of time DreamWorks Animation has made a name for itself as a formidable opponent to Pixar Animation with quality computer-animated films like "Kung Fu Panda," "Madagascar" and the "Shrek" series. Now they can add another one to their belts with the exciting new family film, "How To Train Your Dragon." Based on the popular children's book by author Cressida Cowell, the film follows a village of Vikings as they defend them selves against their mortal enemies ... the dragons. The film boasts a terrific cast of hilarious voice actors including Jay Baruchel ("Tropic Thunder"), America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty"), Gerard Butler ("300"), Craig Ferguson ("The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse ("Role Models"), Jonah Hill ("Superbad") and Kristen Wiig "Saturday Night Live").
While the film is being released in 3D, I only saw the film in 2D therefore will not be able to comment on the film's 3D experience. That being said, the film pacts a lot of action into a short amount of time and the pacing keeps that flowing quite nicely. The computer-animation is top notch and only enhances the story and does not take away from anything. The dragons look really cool and are truly the star of the show. But the humor of the film is also a standout and as is the film's heartfelt message of universal acceptance. The film's lead character, Hiccup, as well as his dragon friend, Toothless, are the perfect reluctant heroes. They start off as the most unlikely leads but through their friendship and character growth overcome their obstacles and exceed their own expectations. The characters are well developed and the supporting cast is excellent especially Scottish natives Butler and Ferguson.
The film begins by introducing us to the island of Berk, where Dragons exist and are forever hunted by their mortal enemies, the Vikings. The Vikings are born to fight, tough and proud men who want nothing more than to kill all the dragons in the world. The Vikings are lead by Stoick the Vast (Butler), the chief of the tribe and the toughest of all the Vikings. Unfortunately his son, Hiccup (Baruchel), is not quite the dragon killer that he is and tends to cause nothing but embarrassment for his father. Hiccup is not like the other young Vikings, he doesn't want to kill dragons but he does want to make his father proud. When Hiccup's father leads the islands men on a quest to kill the dragons, Hiccup and the other children stay on the island with Gobber (Ferguson) to train. Hiccup is awkward and uncomfortable around the other kids due to his lack of skills but begins to fall for a young girl named Astrid (Ferrera).
One day Hiccup accidentally shoots a small dragon down with a net and captures the creature. But when he gets up close to the dragon, he begins to feel bad and decides to release him. The dragon is just a baby and befriends Hiccup. Hiccup names his new friend "Toothless," for obvious reasons and the two begin an odd new relationship. The two become friends and Hiccup and Toothless convince the tribe that Hiccup has become an accomplished slayer. When Hiccup's father returns home unsuccessful from his hunt he takes pride in the fact that Hiccup has changed but when Hiccup decides to come clean it changes everything. Stoick declares war on the dragon's home but what the Vikings don't know is that there is something darker that even the dragons fear living underneath the island. Now, in order for the Vikings and the Dragons to survive they will have to learn to work together and it will be up to Hiccup and Toothless to show them the way.
Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois do an excellent job of keeping the story moving and the humor and fun at a high level. This is certainly a quality film and you can tell from the attention to detail given to each character. Gerard Butler's trademark Scottish accent is perfect in this film and makes the character really come alive. Butler adds a certain sense of humor that we don't see often from the actor but it works well here and his natural bravado is perfect for the Viking role. Jay Baruchel has also been exceptionally well cast in the role of Hiccup. Baruchel's awkward and uneven voice is perfect here as is the actor's geeky persona. The supporting cast also has some great moments to shine including Craig Ferguson as well as Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig as Hiccup's classmates. In the end, "How To Train Your Dragon" is a great twist on the Dragons vs. Vikings idea and features some great characters and terrific performances. It's a funny movie with a lot of heart that you won't want to miss. The computer-animation is breathtaking to watch and the film is perfect fun for the whole family.
How to Train Your Dragon is out March 10, 2010.