I went into How to Train Your Dragon with absolutely no expectations. Zero. Nada. But by the time the closing credits were winding up, I found myself loitering in the theater just a little longer, keeping my shaded 3D glasses on, trying to hide the fact that I was so involved in this silly cartoon adventure that I was all weepy and trying to recover from being totally absorbed.
Now, let me just start out by saying that, in my view, How to Train Your Dragon immediately had a huge mark against it as soon as the film started and characters opened their CGI lips. I rolled my eyes at these Vikings who all spoke with thick Scottish accents, including our now-default “historic warrior” go-to guy Gerard Butler (see his Scottish Spartan, his Scottish Beowulf, and now his Scottish Scandinavian Viking). Whatever. And why the heck do all the Viking kids then speak with flat American accents (voiced by the likes of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, and Jonah Hill)?
But I got over it quickly, because frankly the stunning animation immediately sucked me in. In a bold move, the film opens with a nighttime raid of flying dragons attacking a cliffside Viking village. You see, the Vikings are tormented by these fierce dragons who swoop in for attacks regularly, stealing sheep and people, burning homes with their fiery breath, and causing complete havoc and destruction. In turn, the Vikings have made it their obsession to fight and kill dragons.
Burly, bearded village leader Stoick (Butler) has this noble dragon-fighting occupation lined up for his teenage son Hiccup (Baruchel), and the boy is of that age where he should start training. But Hiccup is, well, kind of scrawny and weak. So in an earnest attempt to not screw up (again) and to prove his mettle to the others in the latest dragon firefight, Hiccup shoots a net in the general direction of the worst and most feared dragon predator, the Night Fury. To his great surprise, and to the disbelief of others (as in, they don’t believe him), he apparently shoots one of the dragons down in the darkness. The next day, he goes on a quest in the woods to see where his victim fell.
Now, cue Linda completely freaking out. The boy of course finds the wounded dragon, and it becomes a tale really not that different from The Black Stallion (as in wild beast and boy become friends, much to the shock of others). But, OHMYGOD. When we meet the dragon, dubbed Toothless by the boy, I just about died. Seriously. Toothless is the most wondrously wonderful animated character this side of masterful Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s movies (whom, everyone should know, makes the most wondrously wonderful animated creatures, period). Toothless the dragon is sleek and black, has eyes like a cat, and giant wings like a bat. I dubbed him the Giant Kittybat.
I. Want. A. Giant. Kittybat.
In fact, I have my own small sleek black cat at home, but I don’t think she would appreciate it if I saddled her up and tried to fly her around the neighborhood. There would be protest and grumbling, just like Toothless does occasionally in the film. If my cat were morphed into a Giant Kittybat, she would be Toothless. Hence, every time Toothless was on screen, I squealed inside, clutched myself with happiness, and cried a bit.
The Giant Kittybat dragon isn’t the only great thing about How to Train Your Dragon. There is, of course, an exciting adventure full of drama and danger (and more amazing animation). The script is funny and charming, without resorting to cheap pop culture references. The character of Hiccup is endearing enough to truly care for, and even the burly Scottish Vikings have their charms.
But then there is that Giant Kittybat. The Giant Kittybat makes this good movie a great one. How to Train Your Dragon is on par, in my opinion, with Pixar’s films… and that is the best possible praise you could throw at a modern CGI animated film these days. I loved it. Now if people could get past my ramblings about Giant Kittybats, maybe they will actually take seriously my recommendation and see it!