It’s been a while since I enjoyed a children’s movie as much as I did How to Train your Dragon. Having not read the series of books by Cressida Cowell, on which the movie is based, I had no idea what to expect, but from the moment the screen opened to the craggy hills, wild sea and precariously pitched Viking village I was entranced.
This is the story of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the son of the brave Viking chief, Stoik, who despairs of his skinny son ever becoming a true Viking and fighting dragons – the foe they are trained from birth to fear and despise. Hiccup wants nothing more than to fulfill his father’s dreams, but with his scrawny frame and big heart he keeps getting into scrapes his father has to rescue him from, much to the humour and derision of the rest of the village. Children bearing the weight of a parent’s expectations will relate to Hiccup’s desperate quest to prove himself in his father’s and his peer’s eyes and make them proud.
When Hiccup, in a stroke of luck, manages to wound the most feared dragon of all, he sets out to kill him, only to realise the dragon is as scared of him as he is of it. From here the real adventure starts as he helps the dragon to recover, christens him Toothless (and in so doing demystifies him and makes him seem cuter than he may originally appear) and ultimately teaches the narrow-minded villagers that dragons are not what they seem. The friendship between Hiccup and Toothless is ultimately the hero of the film – your children will all want pet dragons after watching this!
As Hiccup trains the dragon and learns more about this unknown creature, there are also parallels between the way we fear what we do not know, often only to find out that we have more in common than we realised. The strength of the movie is in the story line, which is clever and witty but doesn’t condescend or descend into non-stop jokes and crass one-liners. The characters are also well drawn, fresh and memorable, particularly Hiccup’s group of fellow dragon-slaying trainees, from Hiccup’s nemesis, Snotlout, to Astrid, the toughest Viking girl you’ve ever seen, and the hilarious, competitive twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut.
Although I find the 3D glasses make the screen a little dark, in this film the 3D definitely adds to the action – the swooping flight and fight scenes are exhilarating and beautifully created. The animation is superb – it had to be a challenge to make the cast of dragons both ferocious and appealing so that when the trainee dragon-slayers call on them for help in the end, it feels believable that they would actually ride them.
There are a couple of hiccups in the movie (pardon the pun) – the adults all speak in a Scottish accent but the children have American accents. Hiccup also talks about his village being in snow the whole year but the entire story takes place in summer. There will also be those endless book vs. the movie debates as the movie changes one of the basic premises of the original plot in which all Vikings ride dragons, and Hiccup has to train a small dragon as nerdy as he is. These inconsistencies fall away however, in the face of the movie’s warmth, humour and nail-biting adventure.
It’s been given a 10M, which is 10 with mature content but I would say, depending on your child’s sensitivities, children from age 6 or 7 will love it. There is violence when the dragons fight but there are plenty of fun scenes and humour to lighten up the scary bits.
Your children can read the rest of Hiccup’s exploits in the How to Train Your Dragon series. The series is available at Exclusive Books and includes How to Be a Pirate, How to Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, and How to Break a Dragon’s Heart.
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