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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

How to Train Your Dragon

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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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How to Train Your Dragon

As you might expect, this is the story of a boy and his dragon. Yes, it’s been done before, but this one takes the tale to new heights. Literally. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, voice) is the son of Viking leader Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler, voice), but he’s puny and lacking the warrior spirit, a real disappointment to his father. Hiccup is apprenticed to blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson, voice), who is missing an arm and a leg from his own dealings with dragons.

The film begins with a dragon attack on the Viking island town of Berk, complete with stolen livestock, raging fires and structural damage that one would expect to encounter in a war equipped with modern artillery. The town does what it can to defend itself, but is outnumbered. Hiccup initially tries to hide, but ends up making a strike against a swift-moving dragon that disappears into the night.

The next day he finds the creature snagged in rope and helplessly grounded near the river of a secluded valley. He frees it and it departs. Later, Hiccup discovers the dragon trying to fly, but it is unable to stay airborne. Wounded in battle, an important piece of its tail is missing, the part that’s used for flight stabilization and balance.

Meanwhile, love interest Astrid (America Ferrera, voice) is a spunky tomboy who takes up dragon training (led by Gobber) along with a reluctant Hiccup and several other teens - with the aid of the town’s several captured species of fie breathers. There’s even a two-headed one. No one’s ever seen, drawn or captured a dreaded Night Fury; no one until Hiccup, that is, and he’s not about to spill his secret.

Visiting the dragon daily, Hiccup gains its trust and observes its trials as it tries to fly. He names it Toothless because, although it possesses a full set of retractable teeth, it doesn’t keep them on display unless hungry or threatened. Bonding scenes between the two are clever and sweet.

Hiccup fashions a type of prosthesis for Toothless’ tail and goes through several prototypes before perfecting the one that will allow him to ride (and steer) Toothless safely. Hiccup learns valuable dragon secrets from Toothless (they don’t like striped eels, and they have a spot on their head that you can rub to make them sleep), which help him with his dragon training in town.

He’s soon a local celebrity and the pride of his father until his secret is revealed. First he and Astrid find a dragon lair on a distant island that explains the flying flame-throwers’ predatory behavior. Then, he’s called upon to give a dragon-slaying demonstration that goes awry and reveals Toothless’ existence to the townspeople.

There are the usual pile of misunderstandings to wade through: Toothless is captured as an enemy of the people; war-mongering men led by Stoick sail off intent on total dragon destruction, and a long action-packed battle ensues that leaves our hero and the town changed forever.

The film screens in Tru3D, although there are only a handful of scenes where this makes any kind of an impact. Still, some aerial shots are breathtaking, even for those of us who don’t breathe fire.

Jay Baruchel has a wonderful, nerdy quality to his voice that suits Hiccup’s image. Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson make good use of their Scottish accents, laying it on as thick as their characters are drawn. Vikings are massive in Berk. The dragons simply growl and roar but can, on occasion, purr and squeak. And you’d never think Ugly Betty star America Ferrera was mouthing off for Astrid, a total opposite in temperament.

Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch) succeed in giving the many dragons distinct personalities, while the interplay between Hiccup and Toothless is surprisingly touching. The plot moves along as swiftly as the dragons fly, although the final battle is extensive and a bit cumbersome. Still, the visuals (especially those of fog and fire) impart some skillfully fashioned scenes that make it all worthwhile.

Look for some Stitch-y behavior from Toothless. The two seem to come from the same mischievous gene-pool. The result is a delightful film about a dragon that doesn’t drag on. You’ll want to keep your eyes trained on this one.

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