“Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?” – Snotlout
When this movie came out, I really had no desire to see it. Considering I literally jumped almost 10 years with Dreamworks, it is safe to say that for me, the animation company was losing it. A lot of people loved the Madagascars and Kung Fu Pandas, and I saw them, but to be honest they never really did anything for me. I don’t own them, although I have been meaning to give them another watch. I had kinda given up hope that Dreamworks would ever produce anything that I actually liked anymore.
So when How to Train Your Dragon came out, I didn’t see it in theaters. Then people started talking about it. I had at least three different friends say to me “Kate, you NEED to see this movie. You’d love it.” when lots of different people tell me that, that pretty much means that I have to give in and see the movie. Instead of just watching it, I threw it on my christmas list and let my relatives give it to me. I watched it and…. LOVED it. Absolutely. Like The Prince of Egypt, this movie is on my list of favorite movies. It’s one of the movies I watch when I’m sick, or really need a pick-me-up, and has been since it came out (that’s odd, bc typically i rotate to newer movies…) It’s very different, and it’s not perfect, but the things I love about it, I LOVE.
This movie is loosely (and from what I’ve read, VERY loosely) based on a children’s book by the same name by british author Cressida Cowell published in 2003. The book is the first in a very intense looking group of children’s books (she’s been publishing at least 1 a year for the last ten years). I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit interested in reading these.
Anyway, the movie is based around our protagonist, Hiccup, who is a viking who lives on the island of Berk. As is explained in the first few minutes of the movie, the vikings here have dragons as their pests, and have to do their best to keep them from eating their sheep and destroying their town. This involves fighting them. We’re introduced to a lot of the species of dragons, as well as Hiccup’s ambition to catch one. Because he’s not exactly your typical viking. He’s much less robust, and well… he’s a nerd. He wants to catch a dragon to get noticed and become a hero. He fires a machine at a dragon they call the Night Fury (which no one has ever seen), and it goes down in the woods. Of course no one believes him.
His father, Stoick, is the leader of the vikings and tells Hiccup he is enrolled in dragon fighting school while he and the other vikings head off to try and find the dragons’ “nest,” a place that they can’t find the way too. Meanwhile, Hiccup goes after the dragon he shot down, and finds it, still tied up. He attempts to kill it to be a real viking, but can’t due to the look on its face, so instead he sets it free. It growls and shrieks at him before disappearing.
From here we kinda go back and forth between Hiccup and his interactions with the other kids and dragons in Dragon training, and Hiccup discovering that the Night Fury he caught is stuck in a gorge, the apparatus he used to shoot him down having cut part of his tail so that he can’t balance and turn in the air. Curious, Hiccup soon learns through his interactions with “Toothless” that dragons are not what the vikings had made them out to be: instead of being vicious, they instead are misunderstood and are more like big dogs or cats. Eventually one of the other students, Astrid, finds out what he’s doing, and soon he shows her what’s been going on. While they are flying on toothless, he gets put into almost a trance, and they fly, along with other dragons, to the nest, where the duo figure out that there is an even bigger dragon inside that is using the smaller ones almost as slaves to bring it food (or, like the analogy they use in the book, a bee hive and its queen.)
Stoick and the other vikings return just in time to see Hiccup be the top of his class in dragon training, meaning he gets to kill the dragon he’s fighting. The entire town watching, he takes this as his time to try and show the others that the dragons aren’t as scary and menacing as they all thought they were, when the dragon gets distracted and tries to kill him. Toothless comes in to rescue him, and he gets caught. Hiccup lets it slip that only a dragon knows the way to the nest, and Stoick ends up using Toothless as the way to get to the nest and destroy the dragons once and for all.
The kids left on the island after the others leave with toothless, Hiccup decides not to give up after a talk with Astrid, and them and the other kids end up befriending the dragons in the training ring and riding them to the dragon island, where they fight the big dragon.
I’m not giving away the end.
So that’s How to Train Your Dragon. The story is very unique, and although I’m really not a fan of the whole “dragons being like a beehive” part, the rest of the movie completely makes up for its strange… biology?, in my mind.
This universe is awesome. I really can’t wait for the second movie and to delve more into the world of these vikings and learn more about these dragons and possibly other creatures that live there. The designs of the dragons are unique and very cool; each species of dragon has their own physiological differences, but all dragons share certain aspects (e.g. Noise can make them dizzy). The abilities of some of the species of dragons are very cool. I mean, there’s one dragon that has two heads. One breathes gas while the other sparks it to make fire. That’s incredibly creative and brings about more possibilities other than just the “dragon that breathes fire.” There’s also a book that the dragon teacher Gobber gives to Hiccup about all the dragons the vikings know about. He flips through it, and we see amazing illustrations along with words of what these species can do. I really want to see more of these dragons, because they just sound so cool. Razor sharp wings? Spitting acid? Yes please!!
But by far the best best best part of this movie for me is Toothless and Hiccup. The relationship that these two develop is seriously one of the best friendships and partnerships in movie-dom. What’s so great about them is that you believe their friendship. You see it from the beginning, see it form, and realize that these two would do anything for each other at the end, and they really do. No matter what happens, they’re in it together.
I’m really going to talk at length about these characters and this relationship and why I feel it’s so special and really at the heart of this movie. To do that, though, I need to first talk about the characters. So we’ll start with Hiccup. First off, he’s voice by Jay Baruchel, which honestly took some getting used to. Now, I can’t picture any other voice. Second, If you’ve never seen the movie, let’s give you an idea of what hiccup looks like versus his father, Stoick…
Yeah. He’s a geek. It’s not that he’s just lanky. In all honesty, 3/5 of the other kids in dragon training are lanky too. It just adds to his nature. He’s not strong like the other kids. He can’t be trusted to fight dragons. He can’t walk around town during a dragon ambush without being a klutz and getting half the town in trouble. It’s even a running joke that his father or Gobber points to him and goes “You just need to be less of that,” and Hiccup goes, “You just gestured to all of me…” He’s not a well liked or well respected kid. If anything, he’s the black sheep. That’s led him to become sarcastic and self-deprecating. But he still has drive to please his father. That’s why he’s so keen to kill a dragon, bring its head back, and prove to everyone that he can be a viking.
But all that changes when he actually sees the dragon he caught: a dragon that no one has ever seen. In that book I talked about before, there’s no picture, everything is unknown, and the only thing it says is to “run like hell.” This is his moment. He can kill a dragon no one’s ever seen. But something stops him. He tells Astrid later that it was because he looked into his eyes, and he looked just as scared as he was. It’s not that he couldn’t kill the dragon, but he wouldn’t. That’s not who he is. He’s not a barbarian like a lot of the other vikings in town. He’s willing to see past the exterior and make a connection with a “terrifying” monster and see that he is just like him. He discovers through Toothless that it’s ok not being like everyone else. That if you stick to being yourself, you can rise to amazing heights (in this case literally.)
Ok, so that’s Hiccup. Let’s talk about Toothless, because for a dragon that can’t talk, oh goodness is he amazing and hilarious. First off, here’s what the unknown, unspeakable night fury looks like:
He’s so cute!! It’s like if they took Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, turned him black, gave him wings, then mixed him with a dog, a cat, and a Totoro. This thing totally has Miyazaki written all over it. (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, we’ll get to him in our next 12 reviews or so…). I LOVE the design of Toothless. This should show you how much: at the time this movie started getting advertised, I was in the process of designing characters for what is now my 4th unpublished book. In this book, I have a dragon. I literally started designing him, then saw this movie poster and went “crap, now I can’t do that, he looks almost like that dragon! Everyone will think I was ripping off the movie!” so yes, I love the design.
The other thing, other than looks, that makes Toothless even more memorable is the way they have this guy act. He’s plucky and stubborn, and shares a lot of traits with Hiccup. Without talking, Toothless is very expressive. The faces he gives convey his mood, or the way he gets up and walks away, or acts like an overly excited dog, or a stalking cat. The way he grunts his disapproval or uses his ears and frills to slap hiccup when he’s doing something wrong. You don’t need him to talk, and I’m glad they didn’t, because that would distract from what’s so great about him.
Now on to the two of them. I could literally watch the scene where Toothless and Hiccup first connect a million times in a row and not get sick of it. Hiccup already realizes that Toothless didn’t kill him when he had the chance, so he’s starting to question if what the vikings teach about dragons really is true. Since he knows the dragon is hurt, he assumes that he can’t get food, and sets about trying to bring him some fish. After a few tense moments where Hiccup realizes that the dragon’s aggression is brought on by fear of his knife, both seem to relax to the point that Toothless goes and seems to treat Hiccup as a equal, even sharing some of his regurgitated fish.
What I love about this is that Hiccup didn’t have to eat that nasty fish. He could have thrown it away. But he does anyway, because he realizes that this dragon may be something to be respected. This action seems to start our friendship, and the rest of the scene is Hiccup being curious and trying to get closer to the dragon, and Toothless not having any of it. So instead, Hiccup sits by the bank and starts doodling in the sand with a stick, drawing a picture of the dragon. He gets curious and comes over, almost realizes that this kid is drawing him, and goes and uproots a whole tree and starts drawing what, in his mind, Hiccup looks like. Of course it’s just scribbles, but as Hiccup tries to get out, he steps on a line and toothless growls. Again, another respect thing. Hiccup understands and steps in between the lines until he feels the dragon’s breath on his neck. He reaches out his hand, and is able to pet him. A friendship has been made.
That scene is amazing. The music is awesome, not just during this scene but the other seriously memorable ones as well. During the rest of the movie, their friendship only strengthens due to the fact that Toothless actually NEEDS Hiccup, otherwise he can’t fly. Hiccup fashions a new tail on him, and it eventually becomes a saddle and the two must work in unison to be able to fly. Once Toothless accepts this, they’re unstoppable.
The flying scenes are amazing, beautiful, and surreal. To see this in 3D must have been cool, although seeing it on your home TV is just as awesome. The animation of the characters and scenes are very dreamworks – that means they’re good. I’ve already commented on the design of the dragons being really unique.
The rest of the characters are very memorable, and they add to the fun of the movie while Hiccup and Toothless really carry it. Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is typical viking but also dealing with trying to understand his son. Their relationship is believable, but Stoick is missing for part of the movie, and I know it had to be done, but I almost hope we see more of their relationship in the 2nd movie. Hiccup is the apprentice to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Stoick’s friend who runs the blacksmith shop, has a missing tooth he’s constantly repounding in and an interchangeable hand. He’s daft and hilarious and in charge of dragon training. He’s the best teacher ever (sarcasm… kinda). It’s hilarious.
The kids in dragon training are really the only other characters we have. They’re all voiced by SNL or other comedic voices, and believe it or not it didn’t detract. Sometimes having voices like that really can. We have Snotlout (Jonah Hill: this character in the book was actually Hiccup’s cousin…), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka Mclovin’) , Ruffnut and Tuffnut the Twins (voiced by T.J. Miller & Kristen Wiig respectively), and of course our love interest, Astrid (America Ferrera). They’re funny as a whole. I think Jonah Hill does the best job, but the others are memorable and I have to say that they’ve grown on me the more I’ve watched this movie. I think that’s because I’m picking up on lines that I didn’t hear before. They say some pretty clever stuff. They are, at times, though, a bit annoying, and the first time i watched it, they drove me crazy.
Astrid is interesting, because she acts as the love interest, and it’s well known that Hiccup adores her, but it’s not pushed. The relationship between Hiccup and toothless is front and center like it should be. Astrid is all tough and critical and wants to be the victor during dragon training, and actually spends half the movie trying to figure out what Hiccup’s up to and being upset at him when he does better than her. After meeting toothless, she changes and understands like he does. At this point she almost acts like the voice of reason and the sounding board for Hiccup as he watches his best friend being carted away.
I’m not going to say much more about this movie. I’ve explained the really amazing parts, and honestly the only thing I don’t like (although it’s a big thing) is the whole “dragons being like a beehive” thing. It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s just… weird. I can’t get over it. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just think that the first half of the movie is much stronger than the second.
I will say though that the way they ended it is amazing. It took guts, and it had me crying. Toothless is always there for Hiccup. Can’t wait for the 2nd one.
I would definitely recommend this movie. If you have really little ones just know that this movie does have a few scary moments, but there’s no inappropriate humor that I can really remember. If you haven’t watched it or if Dreamworks kinda petered out for you, give this one a go. It was a pleasant surprise and I really hope they don’t ruin the sequel.
I give How to Train Your Dragon a 4.75 out of 5. A personal favorite but definitely not perfect.
Up Next: Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (YAY MIYAZAKI TIME!!!!!)
** Wait wait wait. I’m on imdb and David Tennant is a voice in this?? What character is Spitelout??? Snotlout’s father? Gotta listen for this next time!