USA 2010. Directed by Dean deBlois & Chris Sanders. Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerry Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson. Runtime: 90 minutes. Animated. Loosely based on the novel by Cressida Cowell.
Hiccup is a young Viking, the son of the village’s chieftain Stoic. The Vikings of this island, Berk, have a problem with dragons. Frequently, they cast off in an attempt to find their nest. They never do. Hiccup’s problem is that he is sarcastic and, well, small. Far from dragonslayer material. He wants to prove himself, though. Everyone wants to be respected.
During one dragon attack, Hiccup tries a new invention against the dragons, and actually snares one: a Nightshadow. He tracks the fallen creature down in order to kill it… but has to discover that he can’t. Instead, he befriends the dragon. The time he spends with Toothless, as he calls the dragon, teaches him a lot about these creatures. Enough to excel during dragon training, where young Vikings are taught how to slay dragons. He also discovers that dragons are nothing like what the Vikings had always thought. He also discovers the dragons’s nest, and the terrible beast that frightens even the dragons. Of course, it can’t be helped that the Vikings also find the lair, and now Hiccup has to save everyone.
At the bottom of it, the story is relatively standard: it’s a “coming of age”-story coupled with a “once you get to know them, you won’t hate them anymore”-story. I can’t say anything about the voice acting, the version I saw was the dubbed German one (those voices were quite good). The animation is vivid and lively. Keeping with 21st century standards, the movie at least looks completely CGI. One very fun part of this movie is the way it plays with and subverts action- and fantasy movie tropes. You will laugh when you first meet Hiccup’s crush, the fierce warrior girl Astrid.
I was shown the 3D-version, and can only say, don’t bother. In the case of How to Train Your Dragon, the 3D doesn’t add to the storytelling. Instead, it sometimes actively distracts from what is going wrong, and there are too many “Lookit! 3D!” moments in the movie. I dare say that if you see HTTYD in 2D, you won’t lose out on anything.
On the whole, though, the movie is very enjoyable. Children and adults will both recognize issues that families happen to face, such as the constant miscommunication between Stoic (father) and Hiccup (son). The dragons are fearsome and lovable — it’s very clear which real-world animals the directors used as a behavior template for these ferocious and yet cute beasts.
The showdown is massive, dramatic, exciting. Here, the creators dared something that I haven’t seen very often in animation, and for which I salute them: fighting a monster like the Hive Mother Dragon is dangerous, and if you do that you have to pay a price.
In summary, I would say that HTTYD is not really all that original. But the story is told in a very engaging and entertaining way. You can’t help but enjoy it.