The sheer exhilaration of flying along with our hero on the back of his new best friend, a dragon, is exceeded only by the exhilaration of top-notch film-making with a witty and heartwarming script, endearing characters, dazzling visuals, and a story worth cheering for. The movie is in stunning 3D but it is the 4th dimension — heart — where it truly excels.
Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruschel) is a puny misfit in his Viking village of Burke located “north of freezing to death,” where burly warriors battle dragons. His father, Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler), a mountain of a man and the leader of the village, is confused and embarrassed by his son. Because he thinks Hiccup is not strong and brave enough to battle with fire-breathing dragons, Stoick has asked his closest friend Gobber (voice of Craig Ferguson) to take him as an apprentice. Gobber, who lost a hand and a leg to dragons in battle, is now in charge of forging weapons and training the next generation of dragon-fighters.
Hiccup is something of an inventor and when a catapult he designs hits the fiercest and most terrifying breed of dragon, the Night Fury, he cautiously tracks it down. He discovers that it has been wounded and cannot fly. And he discovers that it is not fierce or violent but as scared of him as he is of it. He names the dragon “Toothless” and creates a prosthetic flap for its tail. As they get to know one another, they learn that Toothless can only fly with Hiccup’s help. Meanwhile, Hiccup is accepted into Gobber’s training program. So his days are spent learning to fight many different dragons and his nights are spent learning to tame — and be tamed — by one.
The screenplay by directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders and others is exceptionally literate and witty (Night Furies are described as “the unholy offspring of lightning and death”) and the visuals are intricate and imaginative. The stirring score by John Powell and first-rate voice work by an outstanding cast bring energy and spirit to the story. DeBlois and Sanders make excellent use of the 3D, not just in the soaring and vertiginous flying scenes and the battles but in the use of space and ability to make us feel included in the quietest moments. Those moments have a delicacy, a tenderness, even a grace that gives this film a power that resonates as only the best movies can.