How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

“Agh! What the… uh, uh, what are you doing here?”

So I’ve been watching One Movie Each Day for almost two months now, and one of the biggest issues I’m having is picking out a movie to watch every day. I’m discovering that I haven’t seen a lot of the movies from The List that I’ve been meaning to see but haven’t seen, is that I’m really not all that interested in watching them. Then again, I’m often just not in the mood for a stark drama, or insightful character study, or whatever is sitting at the top of my Netflix queue. (One day I will watch Brick, I swear it.) Anyhow, I’m trying keep my selections diverse. On that note, I know it’s been a while since I’ve watched an animated movie. In fact, I’ve only watched one before today, and it wasn’t exactly your typical modern animated feature. So I decided to watch How to Train Your Dragon.This was one of those days where I really wasn’t much I a mood to watch a movie at all, but I tried not to let this impact my thoughts on the fil. I thought it was enjoyable, but definitely more of a pure kids’ movie than I might have expected. On another note the film provided an with this blog’s ancient nemesis, but more on him later.

Set in the surprisingly craggy, mythical land of Berk, How to Train Your Dragon is the story of a skinny young viking named Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel. He’s clever but awkward, and weak, so he’s not much use in a fight. This isn’t good for him because: 1- He’s a viking. 2- His village is subject to frequent attack by a variety of fierce dragons. 3- His father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), is the imposing leader of the Vikings, And 4- he wants to impress a girl viking, Astrid (America Ferrera), who is a pretty formidable fighter.  Lacking physical strength Hiccup devises a complicated crossbow/catapult/net-gun/thing and during a dragon raid uses it to shoot down a dragon of the elusive Night Fury variety. Of course, nobody else sees this. Of course, being as the dragon appears to gone down some distance away, there’s no evidence that he’s not still a screw-up. The next day, Hiccup sets out to find the dragon, finish it off. Unfortunately, when he finds the dragon, still stuck in the net he shot it with, he finds it less the fearsome killer he expected, and more like a giant kitty. So, Hiccup isn’t able to bring himself to kill it, and instead proceeds to befriend the dragon, and from there, we have a plot.

TJ Miller

As an aside, way back on the third day of this blog’s existence I was pretty harsh when talking about T.J. Miller’s performance in another Jay Baruchel movie, She’s out of My League. Suffice to say, somehow he saw the review and he was none too pleased with what I had to say, and said so, publicly, and privately.Looking back on the situation now, he was probably right. I was pretty heavy-handed with the hyperbole. I believe I called him generally deplorable, which is the kind of sweeping generalization I’ve since tried to reserve for situations where I actually mean it. Not that I’m necessarily a fan, I’m not, but apparently actors are people too. Even if they were in Carpoolers. 

There were some interesting casting decisions in this movie. The actors for the adult characters, Butler, Craig Ferguson (as Gobber), and even Daivd Tennant in a vocal cameo, all speak with their native Scottish accents, while all the young Vikings are American actors using their native accents. I thought Baruchel was an odd choice for the lead in this movie. His voice, which he doesn’t disguise at all, is very distinctive, and I think it was weirdly out of place, maybe it just sounds too old for his character or maybe that’s just because I know what he looks like, and I recognized his voice instantly. That said, as the film proceeded I was able to get past the odd accent discrepancies, and get used to Baruchel’s voice coming from Hiccup. Once that happened, I really couldn’t find any fault with the performances. Ferguson is hilarious as the slightly loony peg-legged Viking mentor Gobber. Now, I’m a huge fan of Craigy Fergs, (although, sadly, watching One Movie Each Day, has basically come at the expense of watching his show,) and his voice was instantly recognizable, so I’m biased to like him, but the raw enthusiasm he brought to the role really energized things whenever Gobber was around. The other major characters are Hiccup’s young viking peers. I thought each of these characters was really used well, and the voice acting was excellent. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s Fishlegs was hilarious with his running geekish commentary on the attributes of various dragon species. I also really liked the banter between fraternal twin characters Ruffnut and Tuffnut, both of whom sounded oddly familier. So, when the end credits rolled I saw that they were voiced by Kristen Wiig… and T.J. Miller. Maybe it was because this was animated, and therefore I didn’t automatically pre-judge the performance by a past bad impression, but I actually enjoyed Miller’s performance. The rapport between Wiig and Miller was sufficient that I was expecting that the film had cast actual siblings in the roles, and I was trying to figure out who they were.

All that said, this is not a particularly great movie. Its adapted from a series of children’s books and it shows. The plot is very simplistic, the characters aren’t particularly clever, and there’s not a whole lot of depth. The main conflict at the beginning of the movie is between the vikings and the dragons whom they are horrified by. Of course, it turns out that all the dragons are basically a as friendly as a bunch of kittens and the only issue is that nobody has ever tried not killing dragons on sight until Hiccup does. Despite the fact that the vikings have captured a bunch of them and keep them for training purposes. This works to a certain extent but it’s, well, childish.

The film, (and, from what I gather, the book series,) does make up for the lack of depth, with great imaginative breadth. The segment of the film where Hiccup is paging through the dragon guidebook, and we get to see many different varieties of dragons was a favorite of mine. I would not call the film’s world fully-realized by any means, but what is there is filled in with spectacular detail. The flying scenes, although obviously included largely to justify the existence of a 3D version of the film, were none the less spectacular, and actually proved important to the film’s plot. The character of Astrid, apparently invented for the film, was a great addition. I often criticize the obligatory Hollywood love-interest, but here it really worked. She’s brings a mix of sweetness and sass that’s also somewhat of a cliché, but still totally works here.

Watching How to Train Your Dragon was an interesting experience, at times it seemed to be dragging along, and I’d be getting annoyed that I’d chosen to watch the film, then minutes later I’d be grinning in spite of myself at the pure fun of what was happening on screen. If I were twelve I’d probably think that this movie was about the greatest thing ever. I’m not twelve, so I don’t, but I’d certainly say that it’s worth seeing.

[How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders – Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing