A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Train Your Dragon is an excellent adventure comedy about a clever young Viking that includes some fantasy violence and potentially frightening images of dragons which could scare some young movie-goers. The dragons attack the Viking village, causing mass destruction, and in a couple of cases, they cripple characters. There's some mild flirting and two brief kisses between teens, and one bittersweet discussion about a deceased mother (and her armored breast plate, which has been fashioned into two helmets). Because the 3-D effects up the intensity level of the action sequences, easily scared older kids may jump out of their seat in the dragon-fighting scenes. On a positive note, with a strong female character and an honorable, brainy protagonist, kids will learn the value of cooperation, teamwork, and seeing beyond the surface of a situation.
What's the story?
In HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, on the Viking island of Berk, everyone is bestowed scary monikers and is taught how to kill invading dragons except for a young teen named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who's the exception to the rule. He's a lanky young blacksmith's apprentice with little dragon-slaying potential -- a fact that chagrins his father, the clan chief Stoic the Vast (Gerard Butler). During a nighttime dragon attack, Hiccup manages to capture the most mysterious dragon of all -- the Night Fury -- but when faced with the creature, he can't kill it. Instead, Hiccup, who is accepted into dragon training with other new recruits -- arrogant Snotlout (Jonah Hill), bickering twins Ruffnut (T.J. Miller) and Tuffnut (Kristen Wiig), timid Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the beautiful and brave Astrid (America Ferrera), gets to know his new pet dragon, who he names Toothless, and uses his knowledge to quietly calm all of the dragons the recruits must face. But when Hiccup's secret is revealed, will the Vikings (particularly his father) thank him for discovering the dragons aren't all cruel killers or brand him a dragon-loving traitor?
Is it any good?
Based on author Cressida Cowell's book, the story is surprisingly touching. It's not just about a nerdy kid hoping to show-up his peers and win the attentions of a pretty girl in the process. It's about the pressure of living up to your father's expectations, self identity, war and peace, growing up, and other seemingly heavy themes that are seamlessly woven into a funny, gripping adventure. Ferrera, who at first seems like an odd choice to voice a platinum blond Astrid, is pitch-perfect, with her authoritative voice making Astrid sound appropriately confident and mature. As in Baruchel's live-action comedy, Astrid seems out of Hiccup's league, but she's open-minded enough to realize he's special -- just like this movie.
How to Train Your Dragon is actually worth the momentary headache that 3-D glasses can cause. It's spectacular, particularly when coupled with fire-breathing dragons flying around a colorful fictional island. The detailed animation on the Vikings (who are inexplicably depicted as more Scottish than Scandinavian, perhaps because Butler and Craig Ferguson, who's the dragon-training teacher, have such great accents) and the dragons (so many different kinds, all with their own quirks and strengths) is on par with Pixar -- the standard-bearer of animation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes Hiccup a misfit in How to Train Your Dragon. How does having Stoic the Vast for a father make him feel about himself? How is the relationship between Hiccup and his dad portrayed? What changes in their relationship throughout the movie?
Astrid looks like a "blond bombshell" type, but she's not the typical pretty blond girl. In what ways does her character rise above stereotypes of unattainable beauty? Is she a good role model for girls?
Every hero on a journey has some help. Who helps Hiccup? Does he have any mentors or teachers? What about his friends?
- In theaters: March 26, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: October 15, 2010
- Cast: America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, Jay Baruchel
- Directors: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language
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