Dir. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. USA. 2010.

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Dreamworks' returns with another 3D animation hot on the heels of their successes, 'Monsters v Aliens' and 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs'; with a story about a would be young adventurer who teaches the ways differently to what everyone expects them to be by befriending something he should fear.  
Whilst it may sound like something very much like 'ET', this amalgamation of the best bits of other films and creating something wholly entertaining is now the Dreamworks way.  Unlike Pixar which craves originality and individuality, Dreamworks seeks group efforts in this global social spanning world we live in.
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the young adolescent who yearns to be a Viking much like his leader of the pack father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) who grunts and yells round the small village as he fights off dragons. The dragons come in all shapes and sizes, but Hiccup is a young inventor who has invented a sling shot device that actually takes down a 'night fury' the hardest dragon to catch.  No-one of course believes his tall tale, so on a walk out into the forest he comes across the fallen dragon, still tied up.  Hiccup toys with the idea of slaying the dragon but thinks better of it, and then attempts to help it. The dragon, who he christens Toothless, cannot fly out of his captived lagoon due to damage to his tail which helps him aviate.  Hiccup builds an attachment to help with this and so learns to fly Toothless, these moments of non-verbal communication between the two as they learn to appreciate, understand and reciprocate each other are the most well done scenes of the film; there are no music cues to help with moments of emotion, there is but just a boy and his pet learning from each other.  It was whilst during the film that I learnt that Dreamworks have created the first full length dog-training manual; just replace the dragon for a dog and you have Hiccup overcoming fears, learning about tummy rubs and how to make vicious/angry creatures listen to you by hand gestures.  An open hand is more powerful than a closed fist.
The voices are brilliantly cast, Craig Ferguson as Gobber, the feisty one-legged inventor and trainer of the young adolescents is fittingly accented for those rasping vowels. Noticeably, all Viking adults are Scottish yet all the youngsters are generic American teenagers, maybe once the voice breaks at 14 into those Celtic burrs. Ugly Betty's America Ferrera voices Astrid, the love interest and Jonah Hill is Snotlout, the would be alpha male of the group but unfortunately comes up short due to Hiccup's multi-talents.
And the action of the film is sprightly and frenetic, when there are moments of slow-down and father-son heart to hearts we are thrust back into training sequences and dragon rides.  This is helped in the action scenes by the cinematic consultant of Roger Deakins' whose photography comes to the fore during Hiccup's romantic ride with Astrid (which bears a striking resemblence to Aladdin's carpet ride with Jasmine), at times there are real moments of beauty in this film to rival any of Pixar/Disney's films.  It seems Dreamworks have heeded their combination of cinema and action, whilst you could always rely on Shrek to have some real zingers in the film - it is there were the script comes up short, not to say it does not have its moments as anything Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is hilarious.
However, that is but a minor quibble, as this is first rate entertainment for both adults and children. The kids will be blown away by the sheer spectacle of it all and the dragons flying about everywhere - and the adults will try to fight back the tears by the end. As the filmmakers do take some surprising risks with our characters but come out of it smelling of roses.  First rate and not to be missed.
Jamie Garwood

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