I would like to ask you a question; who voiced Snow White in the animated movie by Walt Disney? If that one is tough, let’s try something more recent: who voiced Belle and/or the Beast in the 1992 animated movie also by Walt Disney? My guess is you only remember that woman from “Murder, She Wrote” as the singing tea pot. Somewhere in the 90s something in animation changed and they felt they needed to have familiar names to voice the characters. My guess is it began with Robin Williams who dominated Aladdin and got good critical reviews. Then there was The Lion King with Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons. Pixar became a game changer not only with their use of CG, but also because Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voiced Woody and Buzz aided by other familiar actors more known for their on-screen work than voice work. The ball kept rolling and every animated feature seems to be having A-list actors voicing characters as long as the budget allows it. How To Train Your Dragon is no different showcasing the talents of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. All familiar faces… eh I mean voices.
They all voice a Viking. In fact this movie is really simple to follow; there are vikings and there are dragons and they are at war with each other. The dragons attack the food staple of the Vikings destroying their houses while doing so. The Vikings fight the dragons but aren’t able to defeat them once and for all. This is a problem in basic all cartoons actually. Did you ever saw an episode of He-man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K etc where the good guys actually won once and for all? No, the bad guys always manage to get away at the end to fight another day. These Vikings just go their way by rebuilding their houses again and again and training their spouse to become dragon-slayers like their fathers are. Come to think of it, there are very few women in this village. But then again this movie is set somewhere around 1000 BC so the sexual revolution has not yet taken place and women are not on screen because they are doing the household or something. Black people should even be seated back in the bus if it wasn’t for the fact that they didn’t have black people in Europe or Busses for that matter. They did have impressive boats though.
So these Vikings are all tough, all but one: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of the Viking Leader Stoick (Gerard Butler). He is rather wimpy and a Viking equivalent of a nerd; clumsy but without glasses because they also didn’t have glasses back then. He is a complete failure but, as we saw earlier in “Cloudy, With A Chance Of Meatballs” has a talent for inventing things and actually shoot the most feared dragon in the sky. Seeing as nobody saw this happen the rest of the village don’t believe him so he heads out into the woods to find his catch. He finds the dragon, tied up and helpless and rather innocent looking. So he can’t kill him, sets him free, discovers that he can’t fly no more due to a tail injury and befriends the dragon by feeding him. Eventually he learns to fly with his dragon but is rightfully afraid that once the villagers find out about his dragon they will lock it up or kill it. His friendship with the dragon also turns him slowly into some kind of dragon whisperer. When training dragon fighting with kids his age he is now able to “defeat” the dragons by simply scratching their chins and stuff like that.
Originality isn’t this movie’s strong point, but a solid story, high pace and 3 dimensional characters are, and of course the dragon is super cute with his big eyes and his slowly starting to trust Hiccup is relatively realistic portrayed. The revelation behind the dragon’s reason for stealing cattle is actually pretty clever and not seen before in dragon mythology. The humor is pretty consistent and both appealing for children as for adults.
I don’t think animated movies really need to have movie stars to voice the characters. They make it harder for people to see the character when the voice is really familiar. How To Train Your Dragon suffers only little with the voice of Stoick as Gerard Butler has on of those distinctive voices you pick out immediately. It’s only a minor remark on what is a pretty enjoyable movie for young and old.
And best of all is that kids probably want a dragon afterwards, but since they don’t exist there will be no animal shelters filled with abandoned dragons in a few months because in real life they didn’t turn out to make great pets. Anybody interested in a Dalmatian?