How to Train Your Dragon

Animation film starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and America Ferrera. Directed by Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois. 97 mins.
Alert to all devotees of Hagar the Horrible and his family – and wider audiences beyond. This is a very entertaining film.

While the village of Berk, somewhere up there beyond Scandinavia, is not that of Hagar, it looks as if it could be. And fans of 'Another Dragon, Another Day' will resonate with the plotline and themes of this fine animation movie.

How to... is very good to look at, especially in 3D, the craggy island, the brooding sea, the comic characters and fiery dragons, very good to listen to, with a witty script and fine voice cast, exciting to watch with the swooping dragons (lots and lots of them), the battles and the sheer exhilaration of dragon riding (like the rides in Avatar). The film reminds us of and appeals to the thrillable inner child most adults possess!

Based on books by Cressida Cowell (who surely must have been a Hagar fan when she lived as a child on an isolated island off the Scottish coast and was left to her imagination), the tale shows an isolated Viking community with a long tradition of fighting marauding dragons. They are led by Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler with his own Scots accent and making Stoick a fierce warrior but a dismayed father). His son is Hiccup, a scrawny lad who does not want to kill dragons and, fortunately, finds one, Toothless, whom he has wounded – and, you know, children bond with pets and...

There is a gallery of eccentric characters, of course, Gobber, the peg-leg blacksmith and trainer, (Craig Ferguson, Scots accent too). Speaking of accents, it is very strange that the adults have Scots brogues and the next generation's accents are unremittingly American (Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, America Ferrera as the tough but tender Astrid)!

On the one hand, there is the rollicking life of the warrior Vikings – and, even though the dragons steal their bewildered sheep, they do not look as if they have ever fasted in their lives. But, Vikings like Hagar and Stoick should be bulky. On the other, there is the underlying theme that fighting gets you only so far and perpetuates prejudice. When you make friends with your dragon, harmony is possible and creativity as well. This means that, despite the oomph of the battle sequences, this is a peace-is-best story. It moves apace, with some welcome quiet and reflective moments. It is amusing. And it should appeal to children of all ages (even if we look like adults!).

Paramount Out March 25 2010

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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