How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount Pictures, PG)

The climactic battle between dragondom and the Vikings is true can’t-miss entertainment.

 Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has a problem. He wants to help his small Viking village fight off the many dragon attacks they endure, but his dad, town leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), doesn’t think he’s Viking enough.

Actually, no one in the entire village seems to believe Hiccup is Viking enough, and the boy has a bit of a complex about it.

But when Hiccup discovers a wounded dragon stranded in a nearby valley, his mercy spares the beast, then his curiosity compels him to help. As he befriends this very cat-like creature, Hiccup begins to wonder if fighting dragons is everything his village has made it out to be.

Let’s forget for a minute that every adult Viking in How to Train Your Dragon sounds clearly Scottish. Let’s also ignore the fact that all their children, Hiccup included, sound decidedly American. If you can put aside those minor nagging points, you’ll see a film that really has it all.

For instance, the writers could have simply decided that dragons keep attacking the village simply because most of them are evil, but instead gave them a plausible motivation. I was glad that it was something I didn’t expect, and probably couldn’t have guessed if I tried.

It was also good to see a cast of characters who are not afraid to change if necessary, but who are also pretty sure of themselves. As one character states, “I’m going to cut off the legs of every dragon I see…with my face!” You can’t beat confidence like that.

Hiccup isn’t very highly-regarded by his fellow villagers; he’s not a tough, beefy bruiser like the rest of them. But, for someone who could have easily wallowed in his outcast status, he doesn’t. Hiccup knows himself, and he isn’t afraid to act on his own or think for himself.

The film, of course, includes Important Lessons For Children, but is also funny, touching, and perfectly suited for its amazing art. Sometimes in animation the things look great: ripples on the sea, barnacles on a Viking longship, a laser-like blast of dragon breath cutting through the darkness, the scaly leathery-ness of a dragon’s skin. But here, the people look great, too. Everyone’s just a bit cartoony-looking, but it works.

Especially when their mouths appear to actually be saying those words, and we can see individual strands of hair wave with every step. Stoick’s huge, braided red beard is, by itself, a distinct and separate character.

Even if you think a story about a kid who befriends a dragon isn’t for you, the animation is. The climactic battle between dragondom and the Vikings is true can’t-miss entertainment, worth every inch of a big screen, and every penny of a $9 ticket. In the “Scandinavians vs. Dragons” genre, this film puts the 2007 version of Beowulf to shame.│Adrienne Joneså

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