If you’re looking for fanciful family fun, your destination should be this animated 3-D action adventure/comedy from the makers of “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda.”
Set on the remote island of Berk in a world of ancient Nordic warriors and mythical creatures, Hiccup (nasally voiced by Jay Baruchel from “She’s Out of My League”) is a nerdy teenager who just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the brawny tribe, particularly when it comes to slaying the fierce fire-breathing dragons who periodically descend from the skies to wreak havoc. This becomes obvious at dragon-slaying boot camp, much to the disappointment of his father, the Viking chief, Stoick the Vast (voiced with a Scottish brogue by Gerard Butler), and his blacksmith mentor Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson). Hiccup’s classmates – Fishlegs (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (voiced by Jonah Hill), and stout-hearted Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera from “Ugly Betty”) – are far more feisty and ferocious.
But when Hiccup secretly rescues an elusive Night Fury dragon that he semi-accidentally shot down and maimed, he discovers that, as a species, dragons aren’t really monstrous creatures. In fact, they can be talked to, soothed and befriended. Naming his wounded and voiceless reptilian pal “Toothless,” Hiccup realizes “everything we know about you guys is wrong.” And that knowledge gives him a decided edge over his cohorts.
Based on a whimsical children’s novel by Cressida Cowell that’s been compassionately adapted and directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (“Lilo & Stitch,” “Mulan”), it’s visually thrilling, especially when the boy mounts his beast, soaring up into the sky and swooping down over the sea. There are some dazzling, bonding moments, reminiscent of “The Black Stallion.” Drawn with the face of a newt, Sleek Toothless has a feline temperament and his shimmering green eyes convey an astonishing range of emotions. For parents: the intense action and scary images earned a PG rating. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “How to Train Your Dragon” wings in with a captivating 9 – with lots of heart.