April 1, 2010

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How to Train Your Dragon (PG)
A Viking lad learns to be his own man and stop fearing the beasts that plague his village in How to Train Your Dragon, another somewhat charmless animated 3-D adaptation of a kids’ book.

If comic books and video games had been around in the time of Vikings, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) would be spending all his pelts and smoked fish on the latest issue of X-Viking and the new first-person spear-er. A weakling and a nerd, he doesn’t quite fit in with his big-muscled, jock-like neighbors and certainly not the masterful image created by his village-leader father Stoick (Gerard Butler, whose voice work helps to make up for his live-action romantic comedy work). Eager to participate in the dragon killing that is the excepted pastime despite his size, Hiccup builds a device that helps him use his smarts to get a dragon out of the sky and, on his first try, he does — not that anyone in the village believes him. But when he goes to investigate, he does in fact find a dragon. A wounded dragon, looking up at Hiccup with eyes that are as puppy-dog-ish as reptilian eyes can get. Despite years of instruction that killing dragons is What You Do, Hiccup can’t and when he learns that a wounded dragon is a dead dragon he even starts to feed it and devises a prosthesis to help it fly again. Hiccup names his new pal Toothless (retractable teeth make the dragon appear all gums until he decides to bite). He learns how to fly and how to care for and befriend dragons — all during the afternoons after he leaves the training that’s supposed to help him fight and catch dragons. Hey, dragons aren’t such bad guys after all, Hiccup decides, and rather than use his sword, he’s soon wowing the crowds at his training by scratching behind their ears or tickling them.

Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with his fellow trainees, particularly with Astrid (America Ferrera), the Viking gal who otherwise would have been the best at slaying dragons. And what will Dad say when he finds out that his suddenly heroic-seeming son is still just the smarty-pants he always was?

I don’t remember myself well enough as a pre-tween to say for sure, but I’m not entirely sure that the whole parent-kid struggle of being-what-they-want-you-to-be versus being-who-you-are is as relatable a problem as all of the cartoons that feature it would suggest. Couple that with the big swooping fire-breathing dragons (which can swoop right at you if you see the movie in 3-D) that freaked out a few of the younger kids in the audience with which I saw this movie and you wonder exactly which kids this movie is supposed to be for. There is a lot of talking, a lot of jibber-jabber about living up to expectations and learning not to fear what’s different. About two thirds of the way through, I heard an “is it almost over” from a young movie-goer behind me. Adults can expect not to be enraptured by a movie like this and will patiently wait between oh-that’s-cute chuckles, but I don’t know if psychological struggles and the occasional scare from a dragon are enough to fill the time between sitting down with the popcorn and the cutesy credits. C+

Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images and brief mild language. Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders and written by William Davies, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (from the novel by Cressida Cowell), How to Train Your Dragon is an hour and 30 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.