The right combination of an appropriately awkward protagonist, a clever script with , and truly remarkable animation (including 3-d flying scenes that trump anything in ), made this flick a blast from start to finish.
When he finds the fallen dragon, injured and helpless in the tangles of his trap, Hiccup cannot bring himself to slay it and instead sets it free, thus starting one of the most endearing "boy and his pet" relationships in movie history. That night, two hearts change - Hiccup decides he doesn't want to become a slayer, while Stoick decides Hiccup deserves a chance. His father's will too strong, Hiccup reluctantly begins slayer training, where he will learn to bring down - and kill - the beasts.
The story is simple and straightforward; a zero-to-hero tale with few surprises (think Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Disney's Hercules, or the on-the-nose straight to video sequel Hercules: Zero to Hero). But the strength of the characters, humour of the script, and more importantly the remarkable execution of flying and dragon vs. dragon fight scenes make the film enjoyable throughout. Hiccup is an endearing protagonist, appealing to teen awkwardness and a desire for acceptance from both peers and family. The supporting cast is a good mix of headstrong and suitably jerky-come-friendly teenagers, while Stoick, as his name might suggest, is a strong but distant patriarch, making for one of the funniest "good talk" scenes between father and son.
The dragons are by far the best part of the film, which offers up a half-dozen or so of uniquely characterized beasts, including a two headed menace with one head that spews gas and another that acts as pilot light, and a giant spindly red dragon that tends to set itself on fire. Hiccup's pet dragon, dubbed Toothless (for his retractable razor sharp teeth), is clearly modeled after your dog (and everyone else's) and his puppy-like naiveté trapped in a sleek, pebbled, 30 foot frame will strike a chord with all pet owners. Oh, and he's also a major bad-ass black dragon that you can ride and he has laser-precise blue fireball action and is capable of speeds likely measured in "Mach"s and you want one. The flying scenes in this film are captivating and fun and represent some of the most engaging use of 3D technology I've seen.
How to Train Your Dragon is pure vicarious wish fulfillment, watering a seed planted in older viewers by The Never Ending Story, and likely planting one in younger viewers too young to remember Atreyu and Falkor. Endearing, enchanting, and engaging, a fun movie for anyone who ever wanted to ride a dragon.