(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: A young Viking is anxious to win glory by killing a few of the dragons who ravage his village. When he actually gets to meet a real dragon close up he discovers that dragons are not at all what he thought. Those who enjoyed flying on dragons in 3D in AVATAR can do it again. The plot is overly familiar but still effective. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Some stories seem destined to be told over and over again. While there is no evidence of cross-pollination between AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, much of the stories run nearly parallel. In each film people like us are in a deadly place mostly because there are natives to the area who are hostile. Fate gives a newcomer a chance to actually make contact with the natives and to his surprise he is absolutely charmed by them. The visitor realizes that the real villains are not the natives but his own people. (Pogo said it: "We have met the enemy and he is us.") Our hero's people are going to attack the natives and he is torn between two loyalties. The story must be mythic because it shows up with minor variations so often. Beside AVATAR and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON it was the plot of DANCES WITH WOLVES, POCAHANTAS, FERNGULLY, DUNE, THE LAST SAMURAI, several westerns, and probably a lot more. For the basic plot and some of the emotion of the film, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON gets no points for originality. But that does not mean it is not a good cinema experience. This familiar plot is superimposed over the world of the books written by Cressida Cowell. Dean DeBloisand Chris Sanders who co-wrote and co-directed LILO & STITCH team to again co-write as well as co-direct.

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the only Viking boy on the island of Berk who was not born with huge muscular arms and legs. Nonetheless Hiccup dreams of glory gained by killing the evil dragons who raid and devastate his village. Hiccup does not have the muscle power of his peers and becomes the shame of his people. He devises a homemade cannon and with it takes down a dragon. Claiming his kill only makes him more of a laughing stock. Nobody believes him so he goes off to find his trophy dragon carcass. He finds the dragon still alive and struggling. He would kill it, but as much as he hates dragons he cannot find it in him to kill one who is helpless. Soon he and the dragon he has dubbed Toothless find they can help and trust each other. Hiccup becomes skeptical of all the bad things he has heard about dragons. But the other Vikings are determined that the dragons have to be conquered and destroyed. As the young warriors see it "Our parents' war is about to become ours."

The set pieces of the film are the gliding flights on dragon-back filmed in 3D. Unfortunately, those scenes are weakened because this film was released so soon after AVATAR. Where this film does do very well is in the animal story. The boy and the dragon slowly go from hatred to trust to friendship and on to real bonding. In AVATAR one comes to respect the Na'vi, but they are too aloof to engender affection from the audience. And in that sense this is a stronger film than AVATAR. One does feel for the dragons and is moved by their situation. Otherwise there is a lot that really needs cleaning up in this film. Once again we have the stereotype of Vikings in horned helmets. Vikings did not wear horned helmets. The flying dragons do not seem to have enough wing area to stay aloft. Toward the end of the film we see dragons with even less wing to mass ratio. (Note: To see a dragon that really looks like she could fly, see the film DRAGONSLAYER.)

The Vikings, particularly the adults, have Scots accents. That is disturbingly wrong and often reminded me more of SHREK. Jay Baruchel is twenty-eight years old and his voice just does not seem to fit Hiccup who is apparently less than half that age.

I guess this film should lose points for being overly similar to films like AVATAR, but I admit I felt more real emotion from this film than I did from the mega-blockbuster. I rate HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper