Pixar has pretty much cornered the market on making moving, brilliant, beautiful, all ages computer animated films. I’m pretty sure that this is the best non-Pixar, feature length computer animated film I’ve seen though. Yeah, that’s a lot of qualifiers, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise after some really inane commercials during the 2010 Winter Olympics convinced me not to see this in the theater.
The movie takes place in a Viking village under siege by dragon attacks. The dragons come in different breeds with different power sets, which feels a bit like a Pokemon-style toy-marketing ploy, but the film is at least fairly meta about it and gives us a character who’s memorized all the stats. The Vikings are big and bulky, especially the village chief, Stoick the Vast. Stoick’s son Hiccup is a big exception though. He’s a clumsy weakling, but he does try to compensate with his brain. He builds a contraption that manages to down the most dangerous dragon breed, the Night Fury. But, he can’t quite bring himself to finish the job, and instead begins to secretly befriend the injured Fury. The rest is plot-by-numbers: Hiccup gets success from his friendship, then hits a lowpoint when he’s discovered. He argues that the war with the dragons is a misunderstanding, but he’s ignored. There’s a girl involved. There is a slightly darker twist at the end that I liked, but most of the film is fairly predictable.
That’s not entirely a bad thing in a family film though, and everything is well-executed. The voice work doesn’t really distinguish itself, except maybe Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, but it gets the job done. My one other complaint is that the design for the Night Fury is a little too plain, and hits a little too hard on the cute. The main dragon isn’t very cool-looking, and cool-looking dragons should be the main point here, right? The rest of the dragons are great though, and some of them get quite creative. Some of the backgrounds are also pretty amazing, and the animation is excellent. This is a very solid, family-friendly film, and I think it fits the genre slot a little more comfortably than the other computer animated film in this category. Only two of my nominees made the short list, this is one of them.