VOD film review: How to Train Your Dragon
James R | On 11, Jul 2014
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Watch How to Train Your Dragon online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Do you remember that moment when you first made friends with a dragon as a kid? That awe-inspiring second of fear before everything went cute and fuzzy? If not, you soon will. Because DreamWorks Animation’s film is a warming wee piece that heats up your innards like a fiery killer whale. Yes, it’s just like Free Willy. And the only way to improve Free Willy? Turn Willy into a dragon.
You’ve got to feel sorry for ickle Viking Hiccup (Baruchel). Not only does he have trouble with his people’s way with dragons (kill them all), but when he does shoot down a winged beast – none other than the legendary Night Fury – no one believes him. Especially his brute of a father, the heavily bearded Stoick (Butler). He’s more interested in hunting for the dragons’ nest than what his son gets up to.
With the expectations of the village upon him, Hiccup has grown up an outsider, mocked by the other kids. But one day he stumbles across the wounded Night Fury. Nursing him back to full flight, Hiccup names him Toothless. They become friends. And Hiccup finds a new way to treat the creatures that soon catches the eye of Astrid (Ferrera), his feisty schoolmate in his dragon training class. Think it sounds cheesy? Think again: this is classic kids’ cinema 101. And boy, do directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders pull it off.
Everything about How to Train Your Dragon is judged brilliantly. With special effects that rival Avatar for impact, the directors push all the right buttons. The first time Hiccup and Toothless take to the skies, accompanied by a rousing score from John Powell, the sequence is undeniably thrilling, no matter what the size of the screen. The movie was originally released in 3-D, but the extra depth doesn’t come from the impressive visuals; it comes from the emotion you invest in the characters.
As is often the case with DreamWorks, the voice cast has some big names on the list, but don’t let that fool you: they’re not there just to spout pop culture references for the adults. Instead, the jokes come out of situations, never forcing innuendos or film nods into your face. It’s a clever screenplay, one with substance and a moving pro-animal message.
The actors lap it all up, working their larynxes off to good effect. Butler, in particular, gives good gruff sentiment to match Baruchel’s withering sarcasm. The real odd couple of the piece, they turn How to Train Your Dragon into a tale of fatherhood as much as friendship. And throughout it all, Toothless hovers in the background, all cute design and wide open eyes. Crucially, he never talks; we’re relied upon to translate his many gurgles and roars on our own. By the end, you’ll be torn between making gurgling noises of your own and shouting at everyone around you: “Where’s my dragon?”
Full of exciting action, flame-throwing monsters and winning imagination, How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best family movies of recent years. Some films swoop into your heart. This one soars.