By their nature, animated films are almost always completely geared towards younger audiences. If older audiences can appreciate these films, it’s typically because something in the film speaks to the older viewer’s inner child. Sometimes the filmmakers will throw a few bones to the adults, but they’re usually an allusion to something from a previous generation or sometimes it’s a sexual innuendo. In either case, the kids aren’t going to get it and can sometimes make older and younger audiences feel like they’re watching separate movies. How to Train Your Dragon is one of the few animated films that will speak to both parents and their children in different, but impactful ways through the exact same story.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a scrawny, nervous teenage boy, growing up in a mythical town of Vikings. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), is the Viking leader and as tough as they come. Stoick can’t hide his disappointment in Hiccup for not growing up more Viking-like. In fact, Hiccup stands out like a sore thumb, because these Vikings are particularly tough since they have to fend off the constant attacks of dragons. For his own safety, Hiccup has been relegated to the local blacksmith, Gobber (Craig Ferguson), to be his apprentice, but all Hiccup wants to do is kill a dragon and impress the beautiful, but headstrong Astrid (America Ferrera). One night, Hiccup manages to injure the most fearsome dragon of them all – a Night Fury – and he sets out to kill it. Unfortunately, Hiccup discovers that killing a dragon is not as easy as it seems and perhaps not what he wants to do in life at all.
Kids are going to absolutely love How to Train Your Dragon. It’s heartwarming, fun and exciting in all the right places and in all the right amounts. Hiccup’s relationship with his dragon is handled perfectly and the first time they touch will make hearts swell. The flying scenes will also get those hearts pumping as Hiccup and his dragon perform a high-speed, aerial ballet that’s a blast to watch. Finally, the themes in the film are just mature enough to keep kids from feeling like they’re being pandered to.
Furthermore, Hiccup is a great character that will draw everyone’s sympathy. He has all the hopes and dreams that everyone has or had at that age. He wants to fit in, but he’s awkward. He wants his father’s approval, but doesn’t know how to get it. He wants the girl, but is unattractive in all the ways that matter. Hiccup’s story is tremendously inspirational as he perseveres against great odds, which also teaches young audiences that success sometimes means going against the status quo.
The flipside to the main story is Hiccup’s relationship with his father. Stoick continually tries to fit Hiccup into a mold that he was never meant for. Stoick eventually breaks down and says hurtful words in his frustration that he instantly regrets. Parents in the audience will instantly see a reflection of themselves to some degree and there are lessons for them to learn here as well. Thankfully, the film never preaches. It merely reinforces what every parent and child strives for in their relationships with each other, but often has difficulty achieving.
How to Train Your Dragon looks stunning. The characters are all very expressive and have a nice beefy, cartoony look to them. The dragons also have wonderfully defined characteristics, like Hiccup’s dragon, which is sleek black and will remind of a sports car. The animators did a phenomenal job, which shows in the photorealistic environment. This film is one of the best looking animated features ever. It’s also recommended that you watch the film in 3D if you can. How to Train Your Dragon uses the technology tastefully, loading most of the effects that poke you in the eye towards the beginning of the film. For the rest of the time, the 3D effects serve to add a greater visual delight, without being gimmicky.
Dreamworks definitely has a success with How to Train Your Dragon. Audiences of all ages will definitely appreciate the well-written story, multi-dimensional characters and beautiful visuals. Families will want to watch this movie together since it seems to say all of the good things about family that real families sometimes neglect to share.