Sometimes you decide to go to the movies and you head up the stairs to the cinema and it occurs to you: this is not my finest idea. When I went to see Team America: World Police on a Saturday night in the suburbs and the crowd was about 75% drunk sixteen-year-olds, I should have gone home, made a pot of tea and quietly read a book. Instead, I spent the film witnessing fights and ducking as people threw beer bottles at the screen, interspersed with occasional giggles (no lie, that vomiting scene almost made me pee my pants.) And the same feeling of apprehension washed over me when I went to see How to Train Your Dragon at 10:20am on the first Tuesday of the school holidays and the queue was made up of seven parents and ten million eight-year-olds.
Alas, not much will stop me from going to the movies when my heart is set on a Jumbo Combo (one large Coke, one large frozen Coke, one box of popcorn probably aimed for whole families but which ends up entirely in my belly) and something to write a scathing review about later. So me, Chris and our friend Emma took our seats four rows from the front and I prepared to have popcorn pegged at my head and kids screaming MUUUUM HE’S TOUCHING MY ARMREST and NO THAT IS MY CHOCTOP YOURS IS BANANA WAIT I WANT THE BANANA ONE for the entire film. Turns out, I should not be so cynical about the youth of today. All the kidlets were impeccably behaved and the only time they were noticeable was when they were totally adorable: during the generic skit at the start which tells you to put on your 3D glasses and shows a robot puppy chasing a ball, the little girl in our row reached out to hug the puppy. (Aww, right?) And once the movie had finished and we were sitting in our chairs waiting for Fiona to watch the credits for some exciting thing at the ending (there is none), about fifty kids barrelled down to the floor in front of the cinema, spread their arms out and proceeded to run happily around being dragons with each other. (AWWW, right?)
Anyway, now that my cinematic experience has been shared fully, you’d probably like to know about the movie itself. It has to be said that I was surprised to find that the best action movie I’ve seen so far this year is this by a mile. The dragon fight scenes, especially at the end, had my heart beating faster and I was clinging to Chris’s hand with all the nervous tension I was not really expecting. I don’t think it was necessarily the 3D—though it was good—as much as just great direction. It’s heartstopping stuff.
The film, based on Cressida Cowell’s novel, tells the story of young Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a spindly thing who doesn’t fit in with the oversized other members of the island he lives on. Hiccup wants desperately to be a dragon killer like his father, played with as much of Scotland as Gerard Butler could muster. Alas, he is a bit weedy—comparatively speaking—which means he is unable to lift anything to fling or stab at a dragon, and is thus made to hang out with the blacksmith and make the weapons for the big boys and girls to use. But he’s a smart one, and he comes up with his own contraption to fight the dragons...which both fails when it brings further ruin to Hiccup’s village, but succeeds when he does, in fact, net one of the creatures.
Enter Toothless: a big adorable and now broken dragon, looking like a cat who fell out of an icanhascheezburger.com image and hit its head on a Lilo and Stitch DVD on the way down. He purrs, he flaps his lizardy frill around like kitty radar ears, and you just want to hug him and squeeze him. Hiccup sees in Toothless not an enemy, but someone else who’s just trying to survive. How can he convince his bloodthirsty tribe that the way to defeat the dragons is not with weapons but with some good old-fashioned Disney Dreamworks love?
Not helping is his crush on ponytail-flipping fighter Astrid, and Hiccup’s demoralising relationship with his father. (The line “I have no son!” is uttered, so you can tick that box in your Movie Bingo sheet.) Familial pain aside, the movie veers from serious to slapstick when called for. Hiccup’s fellow youths, a bunch of sexily-named sidekicks (examples: Snotlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut and Ruffnut) who, along with Astrid, are completing dragon training along with him but don’t really like him, are there to mess things up and cause general hijinks.
Some of the Viking warriors don’t come home from the expeditions to find the dragons’ nest, but actual death is kept mostly off-screen. The finale, which inevitably has a moment where you think anxiously, “Will my heroes die?” as if you’re watching The Departed instead of a kid’s movie, actually does surprise with a slight twist on the happy ending that makes it seem more, er, realistic. It seemed potentially scary to me, especially in a genuinely creepy scene where the dragons’ nest is discovered by Hiccup, but the kids in the cinema with me weren’t crying, so perhaps I’m just a bigger ’fraidy-cat than your average six-year-old.
It’s a gorgeous film visually, has enough gags for everyone and the dragons will totally steal your heart. (The first thing I said when the credits rolled was “we are going to the toy store RIGHT NOW.” Though they’d already sold out of all the Toothless figurines, which means I’m also a slower runner than your average six-year-old.) I did think the movie dragged a little while Hiccup and Toothless established their relationship, but it picked up when the dragon training started and, well, never let off from there. The voice acting from the likes of America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and my secret boyfriend David Tennant is all fine, despite the fact that as in the awesomely terrible 300, everyone just used their normal accents, meaning Vikings were apparently just Scottish or American. (They had boats, maybe it’s true.) But despite that, the movie’s a whole lot of fun, the 3D never overdone and occasionally beautiful, and if you don’t also want to go out and buy a Toothless figurine at the end of it, then we clearly aren’t on the same page.