How to Train Your Dragon (PG)
3 1/2 stars out of 4
For the second time in as many weeks, Hollywood gives us a movie based on a popular children's book that strays far from the original text. Fans of Cressida Cowell's "How to Train Your Dragon" will certainly find much to beef about with the film version of her work, which isn't surprising.
Every fan of every book ever written is never completely satisfied when someone messes with their favorite tome. For those that are unfamiliar with the book and could care less about the differences, you are in for a real treat.
Sounding a whole lot like a young Christian Slater, Jay Baruchel ("She's Out of My League") voices the oddly named lead character and narrator Hiccup, the wry and deadpan teen and unlikely spawn of his hulking Viking father Stoick (Gerard Butler). In the fictional Nordic island town where he lives, Hiccup is the only one not intending to follow the traditional barbaric path in becoming a dragon slayer.
More into designing gadgets and waxing philosophy, Hiccup is content if not altogether happy at being a disappointment in his father's eyes and uses his engineering acumen to silence everyone by capturing the single-most dangerous and elusive dragon in the land.
Naming the dragon Toothless, Hiccup can't quite bring himself to finish the creature off after it crashes but instead nurses it back to health and fashions it a prosthetic tail-wing. Hiccup also does his level best to keep this potentially damaging side project a secret from the rest of the village and in particular the tomboy and possible love interest Astrid (America Ferrera).
The entirety of the second act is divided between Hiccup and Toothless' private time and dragon slaying class also attended by Astrid and some local losers and taught by Stoick's best friend Gobber (Craig Ferguson). Stoick and Gobber must have some U.K. blood in them as both speak with thick Irish and Scottish accents and nothing closely resembling any known Nordic tongue.
These terribly inauthentic accents are easy to overlook as is the frantic and hurried opening scene. They are the only minor flaws in an otherwise near-perfect film that carries with it practically universal appeal. Toddlers, their grandparents and even hard-to-please teens are going all sing its praises.
Regarding the teens, "Dragon" will also provide them with that much-needed "Harry Potter" fix "Percy Jackson" tried so hard and failed to deliver earlier this year. Hiccup and Astrid exchange the same snappy repartee as Harry and Hermione, and while there's no hocus pocus to speak of, there's plenty of magic and the breathtaking 3-D presentation is easily on a par with "Avatar." (Please note: the film is available in
3-D, traditional 2-D and the IMAX formats)
As abrasive as it was, last week's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" was able to force fit the lesson that sticking with your friends is most important when things are at their worst. "Dragon" does the same thing but in a much deeper, resonant and moving manner.
While you and your family are enjoying all of the action and humor, you might not even notice the morality play lurking just beneath the surface. Everyone will emerge more enlightened and educated and no one will get the impression or feeling they've just been preached to or lectured. (DreamWorks)