Catching up with the Dragon in training

Rating: ***

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By Matt Brunson

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
***
DIRECTED BY
Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
STARS Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler

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I know, I know; this came out weeks ago (the dog — err, dragon — ate my review?). But as it continues to perch near the top of the box office standings, it seemed like a fair candidate for a "better late than never" review. Not that it needs any extra boost, as adults have already realized this is one of those smart animated flicks that needn't be reserved solely for the merriment of the young'uns.

Based on the children's book by Cressida Cowell, this centers on a village wherein the Viking population is constantly at war with the neighboring dragons. Bumbling young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), the son of the fearless Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to join the ranks of the dragon slayers, and he gets his chance when he wounds a feared Night Fury. But rather than go for the kill, Hiccup ends up releasing the creature, and before long, the two become inseparable — a real dilemma, considering the lad is expected to soon complete his schooling and start slaughtering dragons.

Writer-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (scripting with William Davies) gently advance the themes of acceptance and understanding without any pushy shoving, and the animators do a bang-up job in their designs of the various breeds of dragons on view throughout the picture. As expected, they save their best work for the Night Fury (named Toothless by Hiccup), endearing him to audiences by providing him with quasi-feline features (he looks like a silky black cat in close-ups). Craig Ferguson contributes some good moments as Hiccup's trainer Gobber, and how odd is it to see Butler involved in a film that doesn't suck?

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