Animated Movies, DreamWorks, Reviews

DreamWorks Countdown 19: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’

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Based on Cressida Cowell’s popular series of children’s books, the 2010 DreamWorks animation How to Train Your Dragon stands as one of the studio’s most beloved films to date ― along with its equally acclaimed sequel. Though adorned with Vikings and dragons, it’s a hero’s journey as old as storytelling itself:

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a disappointment to his village leader father (Gerard Butler). He’s scrawny and too sensitive in the eyes of the hardened warriors around him, and despite his best efforts, he’s unable to learn the toughness of the Viking way. For example, killing a dragon would be the making of him, but when given the chance he can’t help himself but befriend the wounded beast instead: “I couldn’t kill him because he looked as frightened as I was”.

How to Train Your Dragon tracks Hiccup’s gradual realization that his empathy towards the creature his village has dismissed as a monster is not a weakness, but a strength. It is a coming-of-age tale as true and satisfying as any we see in any other film medium or genre. He does not change who he is ― instead, he realizes who he is doesn’t need to change.

Studio animation can often feel like product, fit with pre-packaged jokes and story beats that are calculated to maximize profit. How to Train Your Dragon stands out for the sequences in which it embraces the wordless cinema of experience. For example, in the first sequence when Hiccup flies the dragon he has named Toothless, is nail biting and execiting, but when Hiccup and Toothless find their footing, the agile and elegant animation ― coupled with Powell’s sweeping, moving score ― makes the sequence genuinely breathtaking as well.

How to Train Your Dragon, while conventionally told in several respects, stands out for the grandeur of its spectacle and the way it relays its message. Hiccup’s ‘boy and his dog’ relationship with Toothless is charming, and how the film incorporates disability into the narrative through their two characters is something that a lot more mainstream films could learn from. Most of all, the statement the film ends on is refreshing: Hiccup’s ultimate triumph does not come from being the singular hero, but from helping his village to work together towards the same goal.

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  • This is my all-time favorite animated movie. I simply can’t get tired of watching this one. It has so much heart and depth and humor and thrills… it struck a perfect balance for me.

    • Sebastian

      I couldn’t agree more.

  • Manuel Orozco

    HTTYD is no ET. However, it has that rare package of high flying action, beautiful animation, epic scope and surprising amount of heart. I didn’t know what to expect beneath this boy and his dragon love story. John Powell’s evocative music would make a perfect ballet adaptation. The sequel was on par with the 1st movie only darker.

  • Jeremiah

    Needless to say, one of the best. Arguably, their very best movie. (Though Rise of the Guardians makes my heart conflicted). This feels like the kind of story Disney would like animation to tell. Beautiful, imaginative, and passionate.

    • The HTTYD franchise is easily my favorite but RotG comes a close second.

  • Chelsea Warner

    My favorite Dreamworks movie.

    • Manuel Orozco

      My favorites are Shrek 2 the Kung Fu Panda trilogy Puss in Boots the Croods and Turbo

  • I really admire the relationship of Toothless and Hiccup and the humor as well is really good! But yes the emotion too is also so great and really leaves an impact on you after some viewings, at least for me with Hiccup and his father 🙂
    Definitely an amazing Dreamworks movie 😀

    • Manuel Orozco

      I’m not usually a dog person but I even found some of the canine inspired characteristics for Toothless to be quite clever.

  • Jerrico

    Certainly Top 5.

    I was reminded of how much I appreciated this movie after watching Moana. Though they are VERY similar characters and stories, Moana at least had her grandmother’s support while Hiccup was on his own and had to make his own decisions with no one telling him that “training” dragons could be a good idea. In a way, Moana (the movie) took Toothless and split him into two characters. The silly rooster and the magical companion, Maui.

    Anyway, excellent movie. Great visuals, writing, and music. Lots of fun. Bit of a rushed ending, but still love it.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I thought Moana was better

  • Katie Lewis

    This is the first Dreamworks film I ever saw in theaters! (I was 8 when it came out)

    • Manuel Orozco

      The first DreamWorks film I saw in theatres was Shrek when I was 8.

  • Loved this movie. Easily one of Dreamworks’ best.
    Fantastic animation, fantastic characters (especially
    Toothless) and a story that’s able to make a familiar
    story still seem fresh. It just had so much emotion,
    as well as fun moments. So yeah, one of their best.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I don’t find the movie that great but I agree on how fantastic it is nonetheless.

  • Alex Beezley

    I mentioned this in the intro article, but this is my favorite DreamWorks Animation film. The visuals are spectacular, the score is among my favorites of any film, and the story, while not terribly original, is told very well. I also love the setting; very few animated films had taken place in Scandinavia when How to Train your Dragon was released. Finally, I relate to Hiccup more than any character in any other animated film I have seen. Alongside Toy Story 3, Inside Out, and The Wind Rises, I consider this to be among the best animated films of the decade.

  • k

    The flying scenes in 3D in a big theater was spectacular. The best.

  • Amber Dvorak

    This is probably my favorite DreamWorks film of all time. It just blows everything else DreamWorks has done out of the water. It feels so genuine and real and moving. I only put this above the second HTTYD because that one breaks my heart.