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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: How to Train Your Dragon

October 30th, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray DVD Combo Pack

Last year there was a virtual plethora of animated releases, so much so that there were five Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature. This year there hasn't been the same quantity, but the quality has been just as high, with three Oscar-worthy films released before the Awards Season even started. One of those movies, How to Train Your Dragon, is the first of these films I got the chance to review, but it won't be the last. In fact, it might not be the last one I review today. Will coming out first be an advantage for the film? Will it set the bar so high that no other movie will be able to live up to it?

The Movie

In the beginning of the movie we are introduced to Hiccup's home. He's a Viking living in a tiny village will all the amenities Vikings rely on. There's fishing, hunting, gorgeous ocean-front view. The only problem is the Dragons. Since the Vikings first settled there, seven generations ago, they've been plagued by dragons. It has always been Hiccup's dream to kill a dragon and be just like the other Vikings, especially the village Chieftain, Stoick, his father. However, Hiccup isn't brawny like the rest of the Vikings, and they don't appreciate his intellect. (It doesn't help that his inventions tend to cause more harm than good.) His father just wants him to stay out of the way and leave the fighting to the real warriors.

The latest attack gives him an opportunity to test his latest weapon, a ballista-like device capable of firing a weighted net to capture a dragon. He actually manages to hit a dragon, the deadly Night Fury, but no one sees. No one sees, except for another dragon. Worse still, in the ensuing chaos, a group of previously captured dragons are freed, while much of the vikings sheep are stolen. Determined to prove his worth, he looks for the dragon he hit, hoping to bring back a trophy as proof. But when he finds the trapped dragon, he can't bring himself to kill it and instead frees it. At first that looks like it will be a fatal mistake, but the dragon lets him go.

Dejected, he returns to his village and decides to give up on his dream of ever killing a dragon and making his father proud. Which is just when he father decides its time for him to start training as a warrior. However, when he is told all dragons kill on sight, which he knows not to be true, he returns to learn more about dragons from the one he downed, which he names Toothless. (The dragon has retractable teeth.) The more he learns about dragons, the easier he can defeat them in training. That's defeat them, not kill them. (He learns they hate certain smells, there's a dragon capnip, etc.) But the more he learns, the more he realizes the things he was told about dragons is not true. They are not mindless killers, but have intelligence and personalities.

And then he learns why the dragons are attacking... but I can't get into that without major spoilers.

So is this a good movie? Yes. In fact, it is a great movie. It is among the best movies I've seen all year. It works on a storytelling level. It has an effective, albeit rather common coming of age story, set in a rather unique world. One can be drawn in by the sheer size of the mythology of the dragons. (Gobber teaches Hiccup and the other new recruits about dragons and anyone who associates themselves with Fishlegs' D&D Nerd mentality will love this aspect of the movie.) There is also quite a large cast, but the characters feel fleshed out and not merely one-dimensional, a feat that is made easier by the cast.

Then there's the simple pleasure of the eye-candy that this film offers. Even with 3D, there are still many great action scenes, cool battles, and there are scenes of flying that are exhilarating, even if 2D.

While the movie is predictable at times ("Be yourself" isn't going to win an originality award) it is never dull. It balances character development and action in a way few films can do.

The Extras

The only extras on the Single-Disc DVD are the audio commentary track, a featurette on the cast, and another on the animation process. All three are worth checking out, especially the audio commentary track, but there are not a whole lot. Call it a solid rental.

The Two-Disc DVD comes with a bonus disc that starts off with the short film Legend of the Boneknapper. In it Gobber describes his rivalry with a legendary dragon, the Boneknapper. It's legendary, as in no one but Gobber believes it exists. But Hiccup and the rest of the teenage vikings help him track it down.

There are also more extras for the main feature, including three deleted scenes, a featurette on the original story and how it came to be adapted. There are a series of 30-second shorts on vikings and winter sports. There is a featurette on how to draw Toothless, and a viking personality profile. (I'm like Hiccup and I would be known as Eek.) There are also some DVD-Rom features and the usual Dreamworks Jukebox.

That's a good set of extras, and only $2.50 more than the single-disc edition, which is a real bargain... except the Blu-ray is only $2.50 more than the two-disc DVD, which makes it clearly the better deal. (The audio commentary track is upgraded to a picture-in-picture track, while this is the kind of film that usually shines in High Definition. Hell, I got the DVD screener for free, and I still bought the Blu-ray to watch.)

The Verdict

How to Train Your Dragon could give Pixar a run for its money at the Oscars this year. (Although I will have a better idea when I review Toy Story 3 later this weekend.) Its absolutely worth picking up, but if you are only interested in a rental, than the Single-Disc DVD is fine. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray DVD Combo Pack is clearly the better deal over the Blu-ray DVD Combo Pack.

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