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Ten Word or Less Review: Better than average family flick,

It seems these days that kids films are bound by certain routines and formulas which their makers are unwilling or unable to break away from.  The protagonist must always be a young person, probably an akward child who doesn’t fit in with his/her surroundings, suffering from feelings of unapproval from a parent whom they don’t relate too.  These ropes are tried and true but they’re getting harder and harder to breathe life into.  “How To Train Your Dragon” follows these conventions almost to a tee but turns in a fairly solid effort of family entertainment despite being overtly familiar in key places.
Set on a tiny island inhabited by burley vikings we find the young, scrawny Hiccup.  Against his barrel chested brethern of large beard and huge sword, Hiccup looks like a walking stick who has never seen food.  As a character he’s a mirror image of Flick from “A Bug’s Life”, I.E. the smart kid who can’t harness his real ingenuity in any way to impress the other members of his clan.  Harder still than this lack of an ability to distinguish himself, his father is the village king and the strongest of all vikings, a fact which riddles Hiccup with even more insecurities.  Adding to all this is the fact that the island that Hiccup and the vikings live on suffers from a unique problem, dragon attacks.  Many nights see the village raided by swarms of fire breathing behemoths who loot the food stores and make off with the livestock.  One night, Hiccup accidentially catches the uncatchable dragon, a night fury, but much to his own self loathing can’t kill the beast.  He’s struck by a moment of compassion as he sees fear in the creature’s eyes and instead decides to cut it free.  Later on he finds the injured dragon stuck in a valley, unable to fly out and he slowly learns that the village preconceptions about dragons are all wrong.  Instead of a savage, pitiless killing machine he finds a loyal, trusting companion whom he dubs Toothless.  The two become fast friends and Hiccup is forced into that age old conundrum of kids movies, keeping a secret from a parent.
“Dragon” is a good enough family movie, but with just a little bit more rule bending on its part it may have been a genuine classic of animated films.  The vikings frequently talk of how they’ve killed thousands of dragons over the years while also lamenting their own loss of family and friends, but the film never goes as far to show anyone do anything like this.  “Dragons” wants to keep all of its characters on our good side so no one can do anything irreversibly bad to anyone else.  This makes the movie soft and simple in places where it should be pushing for more.  This lack of any real harshness runs through most of the movie, but towards the end it finally strikes a stronger and more meaningful cord.
“Dragon” ends on a gutsy beat that isn’t downbeat, but surprising in its honesty and sense of consequence.  If more of the story had been like these last scenes, a stronger sense of accomplishment could have been realized.
As for the overall look, this being a Dreamworks piece most of the humans have that standard, rounded, CGI look to them, but the design of the dragons are quite wonderful.  The variety and detail on display make for a charming lot of movie monsters.  Toothless especially is a triumph of character design and expression.  Dreamt up as some kind of fierce but adorable hybrid between lizard and cat, he has wonderful eyes and a great sense of expression and movement.  The scenes with Hiccup and Toothless are the backbone of the film.  What the movie lacks in innovative plot mechanics it makes up for with its strong relationship between the two.  Their flight scenes are exhilerating, rivaling “Avatar’s” sense of amazment at the discovery of being able to swoosh through the air at breakneck speeds.
“How To Train Your Dragon” is a great case of an almost great movie.  Had its makers pushed just a little harder in the story and character department they could’ve achieved a timeless work of meaningful kids entertainment.  As it is they’ve scored a modest success with some very bright moments.  One hopes that should any further adventures of Hiccup and Toothless come to the screen, they be guided with less trepidation and a stronger since of daring.
Related to: E.T., The Iron Giant, any kids movie involving a lonely kid befriending a feared creature
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