A young Viking boy named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, “Knocked Up”) lives in a small town called Berk. Berk has a slight pest problem, he explains, but it’s not rats or cockroaches. It’s dragons.
A verity of dragon species attack the town often, carrying off livestock and burning down houses. They should move, but apparently Vikings have stubbornness issues.
Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler, “300”) is the leader of the town. The biggest, burliest Viking of all of them, there’s nothing he likes more than slaying dragons. In fact, it’s a right a passage in the small town of Berk to become a dragon slayer.
Hiccup desperately wants to become a dragon slayer, but there’s one problem: He apparently wasn’t born with a single burly Viking gene in him. He’s a twig of a man. How is he ever going to fight these huge, fearsome dragons?
With his brains, of course. Hiccup is somewhat of an engineer. The story really begins when Hiccup catches a dragon called a Night Fury — nobody has ever seen one and lived to tell the tale.
Speaking of dragons, the animation design and thought that went into creating each and every species is astounding. The human characters aren’t given much thought, but the dragons are something else. According to imdb.com, Toothless, the name Hiccup gives his captured dragon, is patterned after Stitch from the marvelous Disney film “Lilo and Stitch.” That’s no surprise since “Lilo and Stitch” writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois tackle the screenplay here.
And it’s a light-hearted, fun screenplay. Sure, it’s got the clichéd bonding montages where Hiccup and Toothless are getting to know each other, and it’s got the same father who is disappointed with his son dynamic that “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” had. It’s even fairly predictable on how it will turn out, but taking all that into consideration, “How to Train Your Dragon” is pure fun. There are some slapstick scenes for the kids, and some funnier bits of humor aimed at the adults in the audience — like the kid who continuously spouts off dragon information like a “Dungeons and Dragons” nerd.
The real fun is in the action, though, and it’s non-stop. The flying scenes are tremendous; the animators at Dreamworks didn’t settle for perfect, slice-through-the-air-type flying. They must have studied the way birds fly, constantly correcting their bodies and wings to stay aloft. It’s marvelous to watch.
Kids will be enthralled with all the different types of dragons, but beware of intense scenes. The action scenes might frighten younger, more sensitive viewers.
In the end, “How to Train Your Dragon” doesn’t give us anything new or groundbreaking. Much of it is predictable, clichéd storytelling, but there is something to say about the ride that gets you through that storytelling, and oh, what a ride it is!