Aside from the fact that “How to Train Your Dragon” includes Vikings and dragons, it’s very similar to a lot of the teenage comedies Hollywood has put out over the years.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is your typical Ugly Duckling character. Although the term “nerd” is never uttered, it is fair to say if the Vikings had a word for Hiccup, this would be the modern translation.
On the Viking island of Berk, the clumsy Hiccup is as far from the Viking ideal as one could get, and a constant irritation to his father (Gerard Butler).
Much like nerds of our era, Hiccup struggles with his ineptitude. He thinks too much, makes crazy inventions, and is the butt of jokes by not only the gang that’s his own age, but everyone in the village. And, of course, our hero has a crush on a girl (America Ferrera) who’s everything he’s not: athletic, self-assured, and a true warrior.
Though he might not be a typical Viking, Hiccup does want to take part in his peoples’ most important mission – fighting dragons. After trapping a dragon with one of his many inventions, Hiccup is unable to kill the wounded creature and instead decides to try and help the creature fly once more.
The film struggles initially with Hiccup’s narration describing his world while simultaneously being attacked by a swarm of dragons. Some of the narration is lost due to the sounds of battle, and the entire sequence is a little more scatterbrained than I’d like.
There’s a possibility that the added effects in the 3D version might help distract from these issues. Although the version I saw wasn’t in 3D, the way many scenes were laid out, it was obvious that if the 3D was done well the film could really jump off the screen (so to speak).
However, true to its name, the movie doesn’t really start to click until Hiccup begins training his dragon, named Toothless. And here I’ll give some props to screenwriters Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (who adapted the story from the British children’s novel by Cressida Cowell). Toothless isn’t simply trained. These scenes are actually used quite well to have both characters learn from each other. Toothless learns to trust Hiccup, and Hiccup through his actions to try and right his wrong, learning more about dragons than any Viking in history.
There are also plots involving Hiccup’s relationship with his father, his training to kill dragons, his evolving relationship with Astrid (America), and the tough decisions he’s forced to make about his own destiny and place in the world.
I also need to take a moment to mention the true star of the film – Toothless the dragon. I’ll give credit to the animators for creating a character that can appear fierce, playful and intelligent. It would be easy to simply dismiss him as Hiccup’s pet dragon, but thankfully the script finds ways for Toothless to choose his path as well.
“How to Train Your Dragon” may not be a great animated movie (at least not in 2D) but it has all the ingredients for a good pre-summer popcorn flick that all of the family can enjoy.