A young Viking who lives in a village that is perpetually attacked by dragons takes a new approach to handling the beasts.
I worked at a theater when “How to Train Your Dragon” came out. I remember when the poster first came to our theater; I looked at it and scoffed, thinking that the film would be absolutely awful. And then I saw the trailer, and this film quickly became one of my most anticipated films in the Spring of 2010. Working at a theater has some perks, and one of those perks was free movies; I must’ve seen this film three or four times in IMAX, and every day that I worked while this was in theaters, I made sure I snuck into a theater to catch the flying scenes, which, paired with the soaring music, would inevitably send a wave of chills running down my spine.
To this day, I still think the flying scenes in this film are some of the best flying scenes ever put onscreen. What they do in this movie is absolutely impossible as far as cinematography goes- the only place they could’ve pulled it off is in the world of animation. This is a movie that, though I was not its target audience, wholly captured my imagination. It’s a film that in thirty years I think will and should be remembered as a classic.
This is not only a great children’s fantasy film, it’s a great fantasy film; full stop.
“This is Berk. It’s twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death.”
A hapless young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, “Million Dollar Baby”) lives in a village that is constantly attacked by dragons. While other Vikings like Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler, “300”) and the town blacksmith Gobber (Chris Ferguson, “Brave”) kill dragons, Hiccup has never been able to slay one of the beasts. Desperate to prove himself to the other teens of the town, specifically his crush Astrid (America Ferrera, “End of Watch”), Hiccup sets out to slay a dragon using an invention he made, but no one believes him when he actually hits a dragon. He decides to look for the fallen dragon, but when he finds it, he discovers the dragon was not at all like he imagined it would be.
Well, let’s get one thing out of the way before we dive in. If you’ve followed our reviews for a while, you know I’m a huge fantasy fan, and yes, I fully let that weigh on my rating. You want an unbiased review? Go somewhere else, buddy. I think this movie rocks.
With any fantasy story, the world building foundations need to be strong; otherwise the story itself will crumble. The story needs to establish the rules, the history, and the lore of the world, and it needs to do so without feeling like its just dumping vast amounts of info on us. The world in this movie is incredibly solid, and it doesn’t feel like we’re getting a ton of info thrown at us, we’re just being introduced to a unique world.
The opening scene, introducing us to Berk, tells us all we need to know, not only about the village and how long the Vikings have lived there, but it also gives us a glimpse at the dragons, how the dragons work and fight, and how the Vikings fight back. That scene establishes all of our main characters, giving us hints at their personalities, while setting them up for growth. While all of this is happening, dragons are bombarding the village, and the sequence is an incredibly epic display. The opening scene is darned near perfect in my opinion, and it only gets better from there.
After Hiccup discovers Toothless (the dragon), he befriends him slowly. These scenes, showing Hiccup and Toothless learning and growing closer together are wonderful. Many of them are done with very little dialogue- we get whole sequences where the two of them bond, but they never say a word. Again, pair that with the absolutely wonderful music, and those scenes are, in my opinion, captivating and inspiring. But it’s the flying sequences that really sell this movie for me, which are some of the best flying sequences ever brought to cinema (it certainly looks better than Dany flying around Westeros in the last season of Game of Thones… not that I’m bitter about the last few seasons or anything… ).
While the story might be a touch predictable after it gets going, the character development that comes along with the story brings a level of earnestness to the story I rarely see in animated films. The people and their relationships feel real, as do the consequences for their actions. As tensions get higher near the end of the film, the world expands, and the consequences more dire. The final battle in this movie is probably one of the best dragon fight scenes ever brought to cinema, if not the best (What other dragon films even compare to this one? “Reign of Fire”? Yeah, right…). The final fight, pitting the enormous dragon against Toothless and Hiccup is beautifully shot, absolutely stunning to watch, and epic in every sense of the word.
It had been a few years since I’d seen this movie, even though I own both this film and the sequel (“How to Train Your Dragon 2”), and I was excited to revisit it. My revisit has rekindled my love for this movie. This is a wonderful film that fills me with joy each time I watch it. Not only is this a great kids movie, it appeals to adults; it’s a great story with amazing design and more heart than I ever would’ve thought possible.
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