Rating: 4 out of 5
A winning combination of vivid imagery, snappy writing and a strong narrative lifts this far above most animated features. And it also has a surprisingly effective message woven into the comedy and action.
In an isolated Viking village, vicious attacks by fire-breathing dragons are standard, so naturally the villagers grow up to be dragon-slayers. The exception is Hiccup (Baruchel), a geeky teen who simply can't think inside the box, as it were. His annoyed tough-guy father Stoick (Butler) reluctantly allows Hiccup to train at the dragon-fighting school run by Gobber (Ferguson).
Hiccup is only interested because the sexy Astrid (Ferrera) is the top student.
But he also has a huge secret: one of his inventions has downed a feared night fury dragon, and he has befriended it.
Sure, there needs to be a moratorium on films about a geeky boy who makes a discovery that helps him get the hot girl and restore his strained relationship with his father. But these writers approach the premise with enough wit and insight that we don't mind at all. It also helps that the characters are remarkably detailed, with telling quirks that hold our interest and keep us laughing. Even the dragons get such lively personalities that we want one all our own.
Meanwhile, the technical quality of this film is far beyond what we expect.
While maintaining a superbly cartoonish design, the animators out-do themselves with textures and 3D rendering that look more like Avatar than Pixar. The soaring sequences with Hiccup on the back of his dragon, which he mischievously names Toothless, are exhilarating even as they're also funny, sweet or terrifying. And the cast members add further sharp angles with their voices (the clever casting hints that this is a Viking-colonised Scottish island).
But all of this is in service to the characters and a story that actually says some important things about both heroism and warfare. The key message here is that we need to learn to look at things freshly to avoid continuing conflict merely for the sake of it, which is a pretty hefty theme for what's essentially a wildly entertaining romp.
Facts and Figures
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th March 2010
Box Office USA: $217.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $494.9M
Distributed by: Paramount/DWA
Production compaines: DreamWorks Animation, Mad Hatter Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 180 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Cast & Crew
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Starring: Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, Gerard Butler as Stoick, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, America Ferrera as Astrid, Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs, T. J. Miller as Tuffnut, Kristen Wiig as Ruffnut, Robin Atkin Downes as Ack, Philip McGrade as Starkard, Kieron Elliott as Hoark the Haggard, Ashley Jensen as Phlegma the Fierce, David Tennant as Spitelout