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How to Train Your Dragon

It’s been a pretty dismal spring at the movies. Nothing has looked intriguing enough to spend my time and $10+ in months. Over the course of the last few weeks, I began to hear some good things about an animated 3-D movie called How to Train Your Dragon. If you’ve been reading my reviews, you know I have enjoyed the resurgence of animated movies over the last few years. So I decided to check it out.

I am happy to report that Dragon is a lot of fun. It’s one of those movies that can appeal to adults as well as kids. The movie takes place in a medieval Viking village. The main character, Hiccup (a great name), is small and scrawny. Hiccup would rather draw and take things apart and put them together, than engage in the usual Viking pastimes of making war and plundering. In other words, Hiccup is a Viking nerd. In an attempt to prove that he’s not so nerdy, Hiccup constructs a dragon-slaying device. It did not slay a dragon, but, unbeknownst to Hiccup or anyone else, it actually succeeds in injuring a young dragon, rendering it unable to fly.

Hiccup encounters the young dragon in a valley. Of course, both dragon and boy are terrified at the sight of each other. However, Hiccup befriends the dragon whom he names Toothless. (He actually does have teeth, but doesn’t show them to Hiccup at their first meeting). Hiccup trains Toothless and designs and builds a piece to put on his tail so that the dragon can fly again. Hiccup also constructs a saddle and harness so that he can ride Toothless. The young dragon allows Hiccup to ride with him into the sky. The 3-D flying sequences are wonderfully designed and executed.

From his experience with Toothless, Hiccup discovers that dragons are not the hostile enemies that the Vikings assume, and need not be killed. Of course, he is ridiculed for his radical notion, until the villagers encounter the trained Toothless. As you might imagine, Toothless risks his life to save Hiccup and the villagers from a monstrous dragon. By the end of the film, Hiccup has won the respect of his father and all the Vikings, who no longer kill dragons, but fly on them.

When asked why he did not kill Toothless when he first encountered him, Hiccup replied, “Because when I looked into his eyes, he seemed as scared as I was.” I loved the fact that How to Train Your Dragon never comes across in a heavy-handed way, but, like all the best children’s stories, teaches lessons to children of all ages. Hiccup learns empathy with the other, and discovers that when treated with kindness and respect, the other responds in kind. Also Hiccup eventually earns respect by being himself. Not everyone may be destined to be a great warrior. But all can show great courage and use their talents to contribute to society. By thinking outside the box and empathizing with the “enemy,” Hiccup changed his Viking world for the better. Imagine the possibilities for us today!

Based on the children’s book by Cressida Cowell, and written and directed by Chris Sanders, How to Train Your Dragon is witty and exciting. The animation is very good, making excellent use of 3-D. I’m sure it will be a big hit on DVD, especially when the 3-D version becomes available. I recommend it as a movie that will delight kids (except for the very young who might find it a bit scary) and parents as well, with good lessons to discuss. So take the kids! A good time will be had by all.

Tom Condon, OP