How to Train Your Dragon
Rated PG/98 min.
Three Out of Five Stars
Eight years ago, I took my friend Julia to the Starland Convention in Denver, a huge sci-fi movie nerd-fest. (Somehow, Julia is now my wife.) She agreed to come because Christian Bale, her high school crush, was there promoting his big dragon-killer summer movie, Reign of Fire, while I wanted to go because, well, I’m a dork. We attended a panel where Bale and the film’s director discussed the making of their futuristic epic. During the Q&A, a woman stepped up to the mic and asked Bale, in all seriousness, how accurately the film portrayed the dragons, and if the dragons were treated humanely.
Julia and I have never forgotten that woman, who I later dubbed “The Dragon Lady.” She would love How to Train Your Dragon, which, indeed, takes a sympathetic and thorough approach to those mythical fire-breathing beasts.
In the latest of what will be an endless string of 3-D CGI family films, a young man named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) watches as his Viking father (Gerard Butler) leads an army of dragon slayers and forces his son to become a cadet in a dragon-hunting school. After Hiccup accidentally captures and befriends a much sought-after dragon, he learns that they’re actually misunderstood, passive creatures who are simply defending themselves from humans.
The dragons vary in size and appearance and are more vivid and interesting than the humans. The Vikings look like burly lawn gnomes and the cadets resemble their inevitable action figures. Despite being voiced by the likes of Kristin Wiig, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the cadets are obnoxious and forgettable. Worst of all is Baruchel, who sounds like a nasally Christian Slater in the throes of puberty.
The plot is a melding of E.T, Star Wars and Hagar The Horrible, while the dialogue ranges between familiar standbys like, “You’re not my son!” to awful, wisecracks such as, “Your butt is so big, I thought you were a dragon!”
The jokes may stink, but the mid-air set pieces will elicit oohs and aahs from everyone. The scenic animation is spectacular, the 3-D effects add to the experience and John Powell’s muscular, bagpipe-infused score gets hearts racing. This is yet another non-Pixar CGI film that has ample spectacle but too many lousy anachronisms and not enough heart or originality. A wordless montage where Hiccup teaches his dragon to fly and adds wind resistance to his scaly tail is wonderful, not only because the visuals are so astonishing but because the storytelling takes off and the sub-par dialogue takes a much needed rest.