Directed by: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Written by:Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hiull, Kristen Wiig
Released: March 25, 2010
Grade: A-

The first great animated film of 2010 has arrived.  How To Train Your Dragon is set in the Viking world and centres on a young boy named Hiccup.  He lives with his father in a small village situated high above a rocky coast.  It’s not exactly a safe place to live.  The townsfolk are continually being attacked by dragons who are hunting for food.

Hiccup’s father is the village leader – one of the bravest men you’re ever likely to meet.  He fearlessly goes into battle and will do whatever is necessary to protect his people.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t think his son is worthy to follow in his footsteps.  Hiccup is a scrawny kid who can barely hold up a shield let alone fight a vicious dragon.

Hiccup wants to prove him wrong.  He plans to capture the most dangerous dragon of all – the Night Fury.  It’s incredibly fast and no one has ever seen one up close.  Using a custom designed sling shot, he pulls off the seemingly impossible.  Hiccup strikes the Night Fury and it comes crashing down in the nearby forest.

He tells his dad who naturally, doesn’t believe him.  This won’t stop Hiccup though.  He sneaks into the forest to see his catch up close.  It turns out the Night Fury is still alive… but injured.  When he looks deep in to the giant creature’s eyes, Hiccup starts to feel sympathetic.  Maybe dragons aren’t that nasty after all.  Could this one actually be friendly?

The answer to that question is yes.  Hiccup names him “Toothless” and creates a special artificial wing which enables the dragon to return to the skies.  In return, Toothless takes him on fun rides out over the ocean.  Their first journey was the best scene of the film for me.  They criss-cross through the jagged coastline with John Powell’s (The Bourne Supremacy) beautiful score as the backdrop.  It’s further enhanced through the 3D experience.

Trouble lies ahead however.  How long can Hiccup keep his pet dragon a secret?  How can he convince his father than dragons aren’t the vicious creatures everyone thinks they are?  It’s all leading to an action packed finale which will leave both kids and adults enthralled.  I loved it.

The animation genre has become extremely competitive in recent years.  Pixar and Dreamworks have been slugging it out to see who can claim the biggest share of the market.  Pixar has won the last three Oscars for best animated film (Up, WALL-E, Ratatouille) but Dreamworks has kept them honest with films including Kung Fu Panda and the Shrek series.

How To Train Your Dragon is a Dreamworks release and I feel like I say this every time, but it’s amazing how far animation has come.  The attention to detail is incredible.  From the simple wind blowing through Hiccup’s hair to the breathtaking dragon rides, everything has been thought of.  It couldn’t look any better and I have a great deal of admiration for the many animators and visual effects artists who work behind the scene.

It’s going to be another big year for animation with future releases including a new Shrek movie (for Dreamworks) and a new Toy Story movie (for Pixar).  How To Train Your Dragon has set the early benchmark and it’s now up to the rest of the films to beat it.