“Dragon” Flies (Mostly) High
By Kristen Page-Kirby
“How to Train Your Dragon” tells the story of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), a lad growing up in a tribe of Vikings who seem to get Scottish accents when they hit puberty. His father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) leads the Vikings in a constant battle against a variety of dragons who continually attack the village, carrying off sheep and causing general mayhem. But Hiccup is small, clumsy and lacks the killer instinct necessary to live up to his society’s (and his father’s) expectations. When a lucky shot from Hiccup brings down a Night Fury—the most mysterious and dangerous of the dragon varietals—Hiccup thinks it’s his ticket to fame and fortune. And girls.
But when he raises the knife, he can’t deliver the coup de dragon, so he instead adopts the flying reptile, whom he names Toothless, as a pet. In doing so, he learns that the dragons are more feline than anything (they’re seduced by light flashing from metal, the early version of the laser pointer; they like being scratched behind the ears). He uses his newfound knowledge to excel in dragon-fighting, much to the confusion of his teacher, Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and the consternation of his classmates, who adhere to the “Here’s something much bigger and stronger than we are! Let’s attack it directly and hope we don’t die!” school of thought.
Which, a moment—if we’re going to give jobs to every Scot acting today except for Sean Connery, and we include David Tennant, who some critics have an unholy attraction to, can we maybe point that out in LARGE RED LETTERS so that certain critics can pay attention to whoever the character Spitelout is so that certain critics can swoon because if there’s anything that makes David Tennant hotter, it’s when he talks all Scottish.
I saw a 3-D “IMAX” screening (would you like to know why “IMAX” is in ironic quotes? Email me and I’ll bore you with the explanation!), which will probably up the intensity of certain scary scenes. The dragons themselves are mostly cartoonish enough to stay on the right side of the fear line for younger viewers, but there are some scenes involving free-fall that will wig anyone with a fear of heights right out. There’s also an Uberdragon that’s scarier than his typical bretheren, as well as one scene when a flock of dragons appears startlingly out of nowhere. Battles are mostly bloodless, though some Vikings leave on a mission, only to return fewer in number, and Hiccup sustains an injury that, while not gory, is pronounced. There’s also the obligatory “someone appears to be dead but isn’t” trope that has to happen in almost all animated films.
Parents should be mostly entertained, if not enthralled, by the film. Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders use 3-D not just to have things leap out of the screen (though there is some of that), but to create a visual depth that’s pretty impressive. One scene, when Stoick walks through falling ashes, borders on beautiful. The message of the story is a little clunky, preachy, and treads no new ground when it comes to “be true to yourself!” stories. There are some giggling moments, particularly a scene when Stoick reveals the origins of his helmet.
What’s most impressive are the close-up shots of characters faces. The subtle communication of characters’ thoughts and feelings is the best thing to happen in modern animation, and “Dragon” excels in that, particularly when it comes to Hiccup.
As with all 3-D movies, make sure your child is old enough to keep the glasses on. And, as with all 3-D movies, this left me with a mild headache, a little bit of dizziness and some nausea, so if your child is susceptible to motion sickness, you might want to go for the 2-D version.
Added on March 26: It’s being reported that many theaters are increasing their ticket prices for this and other 3-D movies, some up to 10%. Parents should be aware that this movie might cost more than they’re used to spending. Parents should also be aware that the 3-D in this movie isn’t worth the extra price, so seeing it in 2-D should be just fine.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family Magazine. She last reviewed “Our Family Wedding.”