Review: How To Train Your Dragon

(PG) ****

Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders.

Cast: (voices of) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera.

DREAMWORKS have had their computer-animated successes, but it's been a patchy run - in between the hits there have been some wide misses (Shrek The Third, Madagascar 2, Shark Tale).

But here's one for the hit pile to rival Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and almost anything Pixar have ever done.

This family fantasy is set on the fictitious Viking island of Berk, where young Hiccup (voiced by Baruchel) is a disappointment to his father (Butler) because Hiccup doesn't have the makings of a big tough dragon-killer like all the other men in the village.

But when Hiccup discovers a supposedly ferocious dragon trapped in a nearby valley, he starts to learn about his own capabilities and the true nature of the dragons plaguing his village.

The plot might seem a little stale, but its well-told and features some intelligent twists along the way. Snappy one-liners, interesting side characters and cracking action scenes, including a thrilling final battle, elevate this above its slightly corny premise.

The film also has a lot of heart, whether it be in the humourous relationship between Hiccup and his father or the slow-and-steady bond between the boy and his dragon - family films need strong themes and there's no skimping on that here, whether it be such well-worn paths as following your heart, listening to your family, not placing your own expectations on others, putting aside differences to battle a common threat, or living in harmony with the environment.

Baruchel's voice is a little grating at first (and why do all the kids have American accents when the adults have Scottish ones?) but most of the voice acting is strong, particularly Butler as Hiccup's tough guy dad.

How To Train Your Dragon may not be vividly original, but doesn't talk down to its audience and never feels dumb, which is part of the key to its all-ages success. It might not blow you away, but it will win you over with its surplus of charms.

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