After seeing some trailers for it, and hearing a lot of excited squeeing about it on the friends list of one of my online journals, I decided to go see How to Train Your Dragon. From the trailer I saw, it looked like it would be a fun movie to see–and it was. The movie is a standard coming-of-age/heroic journey themed film that manages to work the various tropes of the genre in a way that is fun and inviting without some of the Morality Anvils that occasionally plague it. The movie based loosely off a book by the same name by British author Cressida Cowell. (I think this is one of the few cases where I’d prefer the movie over the book version–the book synopsis didn’t really grab my attention.)
The basic plot of the movie involves a young Viking boy named “Hiccup,” an apprentice blacksmith and budding engineer who doesn’t really fit in with the others in his village, and who would really like to slay a dragon. (As much because he might possibly get a date with the girl he has a crush on, as because the dragons stage nightly raids on his village.) Unfortunately, Hiccup isn’t much of a warrior, being a bit undersized, with a talent for inadvertently making a bad situation worse due to clumsiness and being a little too smart for his own good.
During one such dragon raid, Hiccup manages to hit a Night Fury, a rare breed of dragon no one has ever seen with a bolt from a ballista he created. Since no one is on hand to see it, no one in the village believes him, not even his father (who it’s revealed, is the chief of the village.) In an effort to find the dragon he shot, he goes wandering in the woods and eventually finds the dragon–which is still alive. Unfortunately (or very fortunately depending on your perspective) Hiccup is unable to kill the dragon, and due to a moment of empathy, frees it from the line it’s tangled up in. (The dragon in return decides not to eat him, instead floundering off.)
Hiccup, having come to the realization that he can’t kill a dragon is more than a little dismayed when he discovers his father has decided to enroll him into dragon-slaying classes. (On the other hand, the girl he’s crushing on is also taking dragon slay classes, so…) As he starts learning how to kill dragons, his growing friendship with the dragon (who he names “Toothless” due to it having retractable teeth ) helps him learn more about dragons in general. (And he uses what he’s learned in order to learn how to control or otherwise “tame” them. (It turns out that dragons have a lot in common with cats, despite looking like reptiles.)
Things become Extremely Interesting when the girl he likes finds out that he’s befriended a dragon. Toothless, thinking that the girl is a danger to Hiccup, “kidnaps” her. After a ride on Toothless with Hiccup, she’s eventually convinced not to tell on him. Then more disastrous things occur, and Hiccup has to find a way to rescue both Toothless and his father (and all his father’s warriors) from being eaten by Nidhogg. (Okay, the uber-dragon probably wasn’t *Nidhogg, but still.)
This movie was sweet, and very entertaining. The protagonist is an engaging, clever character, and I liked the interrelationships between him and his (often baffled and confused by his weird changeling son) father. Lessons are Learned, but there’s nothing particularly preachy about it. There is a certain amount of “real permanent damage” that you don’t see often in a happy ending, which is one of the major reasons why I enjoyed the film. I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.
*Nidhogg is a giant dragon in Norse mythology that lives in a giant pit of snakes at the roots of Yggdrasil in Niflheim. The uber-dragon lives in a huge cave surrounded by a bazillion smaller dragons who feed it. It’s a natural correlation.