Best For Film’s Favourite Flicks #2 – How To Train Your Dragon

I don’t think there is a question that I dislike more than “what’s your favourite film?”. It’s usually asked the moment that you reveal that you review movies, often after a few drinks and always when you’re in the middle of talking about something else. Naturally, you have a choice between whatever you saw that morning and Star Wars, neither of which is ever actually true.

But even now, after whole minutes spent debating with myself the merits of almost every movie I have ever seen, I’m struggling to choose something that I won’t take issue with a few hours down the line. Even my shortlist struggles to adequately reflect the diverse and eclectic range of films I have enjoyed over the years. Heck, I narrowed it down to three – The Emperor’s New Groove, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and How To Train Your Dragon – and they’re all bloody animations.

If Christine was worried that her choice of 2007’s Death Proof was “too soon”, then I’m near-hyperventilating as I declare that my favourite movie OFF ALL TIME (at least, until someone next asks me and I tell them it’s Resident Evil: Retribution. Or maybe Star Wars) is a film that came out a little over two years ago. Not Citizen Kane. Not The Godfather. Not even Fight Club. But DreamWorks Animation’s story of a young boy called Hiccup who befriends an injured dragon. Please don’t look at me like that.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), you see, is the gangly, sarcastic and utterly inept son of Viking chieftain Stoic The Vast (Gerard Butler), a mighty warrior who must protect the denizens of Berk – including blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and his class of would-be dragon-slayers, led by Astrid (America Ferrera) – from a variety of dangerous and persistent dragons. Desperate to impress his father despite his feeble physique, Hiccup constructs a slingshot and proceeds to take down the most feared dragon of all: the dreaded Night Fury. Unable to kill the downed creature, however, Hiccup instead befriends it, learning in the process that dragons are not in fact the merciless monsters of legend. Well, except for maybe one…

I was working at a cinema when How To Train Your Dragon was unveiled to audiences in 2010, and I made full use of my free tickets to watch the movie whenever I had 98 minutes and a pair of 3D glasses to spare. Since its release on DVD, I have revisited it again and again, finding myself consistently enchanted by its likeable characters, Viking setting and whip-smart dialogue. I even made use of the months the movie spent in limbo between releases, playing John Powell’s inspiring soundtrack on a loop as I blind-sided everyone who tried to tell me that Toy Story 3 was somehow better. It wasn’t.

Where How To Train Your Dragon excels – perhaps surprisingly for a film greenlit by the studio that gave us Shark Tale – is in its enormous heart. Forfeiting their usual pop-culture references and stunt voice-casting on account of the film’s period setting, DreamWorks have apparently softened, taking a break from reheating old Pixar plots in order to pick up something far more valuable from their rivals: storytelling craft and attention to detail. That said, DreamWorks are still more than capable enough when it comes to one-liners and sight-gags, this marriage of spirit and smarts helpting to produce not only one of the best animations of all time, but one of the best movies too.

The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is one of the most charming in cinema, their bond only deepened by the finale’s traumatic events (for a kids’ movie, at least) and the toll that they will likely take on future instalments. As Hiccup concerns himself with creating a prosthetic tail that will help Toothless fly, directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders mine untold depths of pathos and emotion from a relatively novel and fantastical situation. Even the supporting actors – Butler’s Stoic, Ferrera’s Astrid and Ferguson’s Gobber – manage to engage with audience sympathies, endearing on a level that few disapproving fathers, aloof love interests and disgruntled mentors ever actually manage.

If you haven’t got around to seeing the film yet, I can only urge that you do. Boasting a fantastic voice-cast (between this, Kick-Ass and Brave, Ferguson is on quite the winning streak), a great script (the likes of Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse have rarely been funnier), a well-structured plot (the final act in particular has wings of its own), impressive creature design (the flight scenes are simply breathtaking) and a truly astounding score (again, I can’t recommend Powell’s soundtrack enough), How to Train Your Dragon is an absolute joy of a film; and yes, I just gestured to all of it.

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