Starring (the voices of): Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson. Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant

Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Writer(s): Cressida Cowell, Dean DeBlois

Cinematography: Pierre-Olivier Vincent

Original Score: John Powell

Running Time: 98 Mins.

Dreamworks Animation Studios have an Achilles heel, it is something which may well pepper their films with belly laughs on release but it is also something that stops them having the same kind of longevity as anything that their rival, Pixar, produce, the heart might well be in the right place and all the elements there for a classic, Shrek for example, but those goddamn pop culture references just bring the film down within a very short time following the inital release, whether it be in the oh-so hip soundtrack, the in-jokes and the starry voice-cast, it is something which will also see Dreamwork’s efforts never retain the longevity of Toy Story or Snow White.

Thankfully then bringing in some talent from Disney (DeBlois and Sanders) has encouraged this approach to be dropped, out goes the soft-rock/pop soundtrack and the jokes about reality shows and in comes a proper story with warm humour that stems from relationships and incidence, a story that favours character over celebrity voicing and one which, while not quite up there with Toy Story or Wall-E, should stand the test of time and stands up head and shoulders above all Dreamwork’s past animated output as their best yet.

The premise is simple, and the title says it all, young Viking Hiccup is a failure to his father yet in an effort to impress he shoots down a legendary dragon during one of the many sieges by the fiery beasts on his village, rather than kill the fallen beats he trains it and in doing so learns that there is much more to them that meets the eye. Hardly ground-breaking narrative heft but it is one that allows for an expertly executed tale of friendship between boy and dragon with lashings of action for good measure, upon seeing How To Train Your Dragon you would be unsurprised that whilst at Disney DeBlois and Sanders were behind Disney’s last truly great hand-drawn feature (pre Princess and the Frog), Lilo and Stitch.

Easy to draw comparison once you are aware of this fact, heck even the dragon hero Toothless looks like Stitch but this is no bad reflection on How To Train Your Dragon, quite the contrary, simply put some of that Disney magic has found its way into a Dreamworks production. The scope here is much bigger than Lilo and Stitch however and Hiccup himself a much more rounded character than Lilo was, helped no-end by Jay Baruchel’s excellent voice-work Hiccup avoids the clichéd pitfalls of being the reluctant hero for the most part, the realisation of friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is great especially in the scenes where each attempts to gain the others trust.

Thankfully rather than dip in quality as the drive of the film takes a more action orientated thrust the levels of excitement are bolstered by how well we have gotten to know the heroes, not just in the central duo but also in father son relationship between Hiccup and his father (voiced very well by Gerard Butler), if there is a weakness it is in the slap-stick esque attempts at humour between Hiccup’s “friends” during the dragon taming sequences, but this is a mis-step easily over-looked as each has their part to play in the suitable grand-scale battle in the final third as the argument for some films to be shown in 3D is beginning to win me over, it is here when the dragon’s soar that the feeling is one that echoes a roller-coaster ride, immersive as the effect is supposedly meant to be.

VERDICT

How To Train Your Dragon is Dreamwork’s finest, helped by an injection of Disney-esque magic and delivered via the narrative thrust of a believable friendship and exhillerating action not only an early contender for best animated feature of the year but a one-up for the “3D-as-a-good-thing” argument!

  

 

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