I do love it when animated movies exceed peoples expectations and are better than they ever expected. It's always fun when an animated movie you're expecting to really like meets your expectations, but when one comes along and totally surprises you with how good it gets, it's something I simply really love. "How to Train Your Dragon" is one of those movies. When the trailers of the film came out, no one had much expectation in it. Though much to everyone surprise, the film turned out to be actually amazing. I remember seeing this movie in the theaters when it came out, and I was blown away by it. This film is quite simply a masterpiece. It's not only one of the best films that DreamWorks has ever made, but it's also one of my favorite animated movies of all time.
A young boy named Hiccup (Jay Burachel) lives on the Viking village of Berk. It seems like a calm and peaceful village, except that it's constantly under attack by dragons. While the other Vikings, including his father chieftain Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), are there to defend the village, Hiccup is too small and weak to fight in the battles and is instead forced to work as a blacksmith apprentice to Gobber (Craig Ferguson). One day though, he builds a machine that successfully shoots down a dragon known as a Night Fury, a dragon that hasn't been captured or seen. When he goes to kill it, he finds that he can't bring himself to do it and instead sets it free. He then gets closer with the dragon whom he names Toothless and starts to befriend while learning certain tricks about the dragons themselves. One day though, Hiccup is indeed allowed by his father to enter dragon training with others around his age including Astrid (America Ferrera), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snoutlout (Jonah Hill), and Rufnutt and Tuffnutt (Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller). Though Hiccup is suddenly put under big conflict when he has to decide whether or not to prove that maybe dragons aren't as dangerous or ruthless creatures as made out to be or try to be accepted by his fellow Vikings, including his own father.
While the story of the film may boast a lot of cliches that have been done before so many times in the past, it was still able to be told once again in a fresh and exciting way. Like in Dean DeBlois' and Chris Sanders' previous film "Lilo and Stitch", the film really benefited from using its funny and emotional moments effectively. Every moment in the film feels earned and told in a brand new fashion. I think the film also know how to use its visual storytelling moments really well. The scenes showing Hiccup bonding with Toothless were easily the best scenes of the movie and showed how strong the characters were which I'll get to in a bit. As for the animation, it really is incredible. I was amazed by how gorgeous and beautiful the animation looked and I think that bringing on board cinematographer Roger Deakins as a lighting consultant was one big reason. Everything looked stunning and the flying scenes, in particular, were a real highlight. I have always been amazed by flying scenes in animation, and these are easily some of the best ever crafted. As for the characters, they are all incredibly relatable and are all great. Hiccup is a relatable protagonist since he's seen as an outcast by his own village and wants to prove out to do something different than everyone else. I really connected to him through his hard struggles which include trying to make some friends in dragon training and reconnecting with his father. The relationships that he has with the characters including Stoick and Astrid are all brilliantly done, though it's his bond with Toothless that steals the show. Although he doesn't talk, Toothless really does have a lot of personality. He does have a toughness to him being a dragon, but he's also a cute creature and really did remind me of a pet cat at times. Seeing the two characters bond was a real highlight and easily what I love most about the movie.
"How to Train Your Dragon" really is such a fantastic animated movie benefiting from a story that while cliched still feels fresh and new, breathtaking and gorgeous animation, and characters that are extremely relatable. This is the kind of animated movie that I want to see from DreamWorks. A film that really is strong in its humor, but it's also very strong in its drama. I really hope they can create more amazing animated movies like this in the future.