This tale of dragon-and-teen love will have your kids' eyes reeling and their hearts pumping.
Viking teen Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) wants desperately to gain acceptance --particularly from his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) -- by slaying a dragon. Problem is, he's a bit of a weakling ... and he's been secretly keeping a dragon named Toothless as his pet.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
For a movie about a race of Vikings locked in a life-or-death battle with vicious (but misunderstood) dragons, there's surprisingly no blood or gore. Don't get me wrong: There's plenty of action and excitement, but it's all clean.
The flight scenes where Hiccup learns to fly Toothless are some of the best of their kind. The filmmakers should be commended for their masterful use of 3D; the images don't simply leap out at you, there is an uncommon level of depth and richness that draws you into the animated world.
Though initially yearning to fit in, Hiccup grows confident about being different through his relationship with Toothless. He learns that dragons aren't as terrible as his father would have him believe, and he risks his life and reputation to set the record straight. Hiccup does the right thing even though it's unpopular -- which is never a bad thing to teach your kids.
Probably the most fun element in the film is Hiccup's relationship with Toothless. They begin the film as mortal enemies; an act of mercy on Hiccup's part leads to a friendship that changes both the Viking's and dragon's worlds for the better. Calling this an "anti-war" movie may be a bit of a stretch, but there's a nice pro-reconciliation undercurrent.
Hiccup is clearly a disappointment to his father, Stoick, which can be painful to watch at times. (Stoick renounces his son at one point.) But in the end, Stoick realizes that Hiccup is indeed special -- the first Viking ever to train and ride a dragon -- and he apologizes and says that he is proud of his son. For a man as stubborn as Stoick, admitting he's wrong -- particularly about dragons -- is probably the ultimate sign of love and makes for a very sweet moment.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
Even though the film opens with an epic battle scene, it's somehow a slow starter. Dropping kids into the middle of a war with no context or lovable characters to root for could potentially be confusing. The film tries to iron this wrinkle out by filling in the pertinent details via voiceover from Hiccup, but the sarcastic tone and wry one-liners might only confuse young ones even further.
In fact, the film as a whole has a sarcastic and sometimes meanspirited tone that is intermittently funny but mostly unnecessary. A handful of comedians -- including Jonah Hill, TJ Miller and Kristen Wiig -- fill out the smaller roles of bullying and rude teenagers who pick on Hiccup because he's different. As Hiccup proves to be more and more of a dragon expert, the kids start to worship him, but the relationships are always based on status and popularity rather than genuine friendship.
The "cool" kids make fun of reading, saying, "Why would we read when we're still alive?" Even our hero, Hiccup, treats reading as a bore, thumbing flippantly through an important book about dragons that probably could have helped him more in his journey had he paid more attention. You'd like to think that a movie based on a popular series of books would encourage reading, not make it seem like heavy labor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The least threatening elements of "How to Train Your Dragon" are the dragons. Much worse is how the film's sweet and uplifting messages are undercut by an often sarcastic and insincere tone. PG is the perfect rating for this film, and you may consider leaving anyone under 7 at home.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|