Written by: Will Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Younger generations, while not wise from years lived like their elders have the opportunity to bring a fresh and new perspective those jaded by experience could not possibly see past. This happens all of the time in our world with more progressive viewpoints from younger folks enacting major changes down the line. How to Train Your Dragon takes this and runs with it in regard to the relationship between Vikings and dragons. A long-held dispute but one built on a misunderstanding.
In the Viking island of Berk, the main threat to the lives of the citizens comes from dragons, who steal their livestock, burn the land, which results in human casualties as well. This deep hatred has made the Vikings want to train their young to kill these creatures. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of the chieftain, not deemed strong enough to be a dragon killer, comes across a very rare breed, befriends it, and learns these dragons are not the threat he has been taught to believe. Now he has to convince everyone else of this.
The beautiful simplicity of How to Train Your Dragon utilizes its digestible premise and cuddly presence of these dragons to take a beautifully textured and layered story with plenty of action to entertain. It demonstrated what greatness can be fulfilled by a studio four-quadrant feature. Touching on so many smaller aspects of the story that can be easily overlooked when focusing on the action of the movie, but if you look for them, they prove to be beautiful little jewels to inspect.
With dragons considered pests, at best, and monsters widely, the tension in having the chieftain’s son be the one to try and tame dragons pretty much feels like a scandal. The man who has dedicated his entire life to protecting the people of the village has a son who not only sympathizes with these creatures but wants to train them. Yikes, but it goes with the aforementioned theme of a younger generation teaching the older one to move past previous biases to look at this situation a different way. Hiccup’s elders have always assumed the dragons do these actions because of their bestial nature, but through his experience, the young lad learns there’s more than meets the eye. Many parallels can be drawn to our way of life and how it takes the minds of the young to shift a global perspective and this film highlights it but with dragons.
Hiccup also embodies a different way of viewing masculinity in this Viking tribe where he does not fit the mold of what his father and others expect. His scrawny demeanor and having the name “Hiccup” automatically has him relegated to “less than” compared to others who have the strength to actually take on these dragons causing all of this havoc for the Vikings. This look at masculinity also comes in the way these Vikings must act towards these dragons as well. Violence is not always the answer even if culture has taught men otherwise, which leaves Hiccup’s approach to actually being kind to these dragons to be incredibly radical within the village. Kindness does mean the same as being weak and the way the film manages to imbue this idea in Hiccup’s development just takes this film to another level.
As an animated feature, this film should be judged on how it animates its characters, and the filmmakers involved did a wonderful job. With each new entry getting better, this sets a firm groundwork for the exaggerated features of these characters. From the gargantuan Viking men to the slender Hiccup, the features of these characters help exemplify what makes them who they are. The same can be said about the dragons as they all have different strengths according to their size and shape. With many of them having goofy faces, it becomes easy to forget these creatures can cause an incredible amount of damage. This leaves the look of Toothless, the dragon Hiccup befriends to be the most intriguing of them all. A rare species and he certainly looks like it as compared to the other winged creatures of the film. While I typically loathe the easy use of making any animals meant to be allies to basically behave like dogs no matter the species, I can excuse it here.
The voice cast brought together just makes so much sense in trying to define these characters even further. Jay Baruchel has made a career from being an awkward skinny guy, which makes him the perfect fit for Hiccup while also having Gerard Butler voice the father, Stoick. When you think of this being turned into a live-action feature, which I pray never happens and I may have accidentally manifested it into existence. Those in the future please forgive me. However, if turned into live-action, Gerard Butler just fits who this character would be in reality. Stoick the Vast, I mean no one matches this description more than Butler.
Tremendously rousing, emotionally potent, and an overall entertaining ride, How to Train Your Dragon takes an awkward title for a feature and crafts a wonderfully heartwarming tale. So full of life, personality, and outright fervor, this breaks down the generational lines to show even the young ones can teach the elders a thing or two. It makes for wonderful arcs for both Hiccup and Stoick as they try to navigate what works best for both on a personal level as well as protecting the entire village. They grapple for what can be believed to be a threat or a friend to this village weighs heavy on the mind and the lesson it teaches has incredible value.