STARRING: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller

2010, 98 Minutes, Directed by:
Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois

There are no fart jokes, pop cultural references or any annoying R&B songs in How to Train Your Dragon.

For DreamWork Animation this surely represents artistic growth . . . (Maybe they are saving them up for the upcoming Shrek Forever After, who knows?)

Okay, in fairness How to Train Your Dragon isn't quite as much fun as their last two efforts, namely Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda. Maybe because How to . . . is a more straightforward CGI animated effort aimed at a slightly younger audience this time. Unlike, let's say, those cheap straight-to-DVD Barbie movies, parents can safely watch How to... with their kids without wanting to poke out their own eyes or gnaw off their legs. It's also a good sight better than Shrek 3 and SharkTale - low-points in DreamWorks' output.

How to... never really actually tries to be a comedy and pack in the sort of humor that only adults will get. Instead it is actually gosh-darned cute and ideal viewing for small kids, except perhaps for some scary bits involving a Godzilla-sized dragon towards the end of the movie.

That doesn't mean that How to... doesn't churn out the clichés like a, um, sausage grinder though . . .

First off, there's our hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (voiced by Jay Baruchel in a borderline annoying twang) who is, well, "different."

In kids' CG animated movies "different" is a euphemism for "geeky". Like the protagonists in countless recent movies (Chicken Little, Cloudy with a Chance of a Meatballs, etc.) Hiccup has daddy issues because daddy is into macho pursuits such as, um, dragon-slaying.

"Over-sized, fire-breathing reptiles are people too!"

See, Hiccup is a Viking and his village has a real problem with dragons that regularly steal their livestock, and it is frowned upon if you're not any good at killing dragons. (The other Vikings can't be too good at it either because we never actually see them killing any dragons as well. But this has probably has more to do with How to... being a PG movie rather than anything else.)

The Viking setting may be novel, but the movie itself isn't particularly original. The plot is Pocahontas, but with dragons instead of Native Americans. Hiccup befriends a dragon and discovers that over-sized, fire-breathing reptiles are people too!

Needless to say Hiccup will finally convince his dad and the rest of the villagers of this by the end of the movie. (A better title for the movie would have been "A Boy and His Dragon.")

How to... may churn out the clichés, but the film's intended audience won't care. Kids will love it.

It is fast-paced fun even though it is somewhat on the average side. The animation is of the high standard one would expect of a major studio like DreamWorks, but not particularly groundbreaking.

Pixar still leads the field, although How to... is a creative risk for a studio that has relied on a more manic comedic formula with A-list voice casts to lure punters in the past. The biggest "name" in How to... is probably Gerard Butler (300) who voices Hiccup's dad. His accent veers from anything from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Germanic patois to Shrek's Scottish brogue. Then again, who knows what Vikings speaking in English would actually sound like?

By the way, How to... is worth seeing in 3D, but like many of today's 3-D movies it more like a live action ViewMaster than a case of Coming At Ya . . .

Note: If Hiccup's "pet" dragon seems familiar, it is because he (it?) has more than a passing resemblance to Stitch from the Lilo & Stitch movies. This is no coincidence: How to... is written and directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who also wrote Lilo & Stitch back in 2002. 



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