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How to Train Your Dragon (2010): ***

Directed by Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders

I enjoyed this movie quite a bit more than I thought I would. Carrie had a much more visceral emotional response to it than I did, though. She calls it “The Suki Dragon Movie” because the main dragon in the film reminds her so much of our dog Suki.

What HTTYD reminded me most of, actually, was Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. They’re both about conformist communities (ants, vikings), the hero is a bumbling inventor, and they both start with large, ensemble sequences where you get to meet all the characters and see how they all fit together. But where A Bug’s Life’s opening sequence was awkward and obvious, I thought HTTYD’s opening was a bit better.

I thought the main character, Hiccup, was appealing despite a stupid name, though Jay Baruchel’s distinctive voice sometimes gave a line reading that just didn’t quite work perfectly. Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler were much stronger vocally. I thought it was strange that the elder characters had incredibly thick Scottish accents (on account of being Vikings) and the youngsters all had American accents (on account of being raised by Vikings with Scottish accents), but it didn’t really bother me.

The story is actually pretty clever. Hiccup captures and then befriends the dragon Suki--uh, I mean “Toothless”--and uses what he learns from Toothless in order to excel at his training to become, ironically, a dragon slayer. The tensions write themselves: Will Hiccup be faced with having to slay a dragon now that he knows they’re not all monsters? Will Hiccup’s source of information be discovered, and will the elders misinterpret his relationship with Toothless as treasonous? It probably won’t surprise you that the answers to all these questions are “yes” (it certainly didn’t surprise me), but even though the story holds no real surprises, it is surprising in how satisfyingly all of the expected elements are presented. It’s not an amazing story--indeed, HTTYD is pretty lite fare--but it is well-told.

It’s also surprisingly pretty. I’d rank it up there with Kung-Fu Panda as the best-looking Dreamworks movie, which is faint praise when you look back at their history of horrifying, unappealing designs and visuals. Some of the flying sequences are exceptionally beautiful, and the character designs are playful and fun (which is not surprising considering one of the directors is Chris Sanders, the man behind the delightful Lilo & Stitch). Carrie & I both particularly liked the costume design of America Ferrera’s character, Astrid.

So it won’t blow your mind and make you think you’ve seen the best movie EVAR MADE or anything like that, but HTTYD is fun, is entertaining, and is very likable. Ultimately I don’t think I’ll own it, but I can see myself watching it on TV if I ever happen to see that it’s on.


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