Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Video review: "How to Train Your Dragon"

Don't get me wrong, "Toy Story 3" was terrific. But for my money, the best animated film so far in 2010 was "How to Train Your Dragon."

This marvelous computer-animation effort from DreamWorks combined exciting action sequences with slightly subversive humor, wrapped in a subtle life-lessons subtext about overcoming disability.

Jay Baruchel provides the voice of Hiccup, a wimpy teenage Viking who'd rather tinker with gizmos than fight the plague of dragons that constantly attack his village. But when your old man is the battle-scarred chieftain (Gerard Butler), your future is pretty much laid out for you.

Hiccup reluctantly enrolls in Dragon Training class, learning how to combat the various types of beasties breathing fire, spitting noxious gas and spewing lightning bolts. But his real education comes when he befriends a wounded dragon he dubs Toothless, and learns they're not the mindless killers his people have made them out to be.

Toothless has a maimed tail that won't allow him to fly without Hiccup's technology wizardry. And Gobber, the local blacksmith, is missing a leg and a hand. These and other story elements underscore the theme of celebrating our differences, without any of the usual pat smarminess.

Directed by Dean DuBlois and Chris Sanders, the same team behind "Lilo & Stitch," "Dragon" is the sort of smart, sassy kiddie flick that parents secretly slip into the video player after the children have gone to bed.

Extras range from measly to quite good, depending on which version you buy. The single-disc DVD comes with only a behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew.

The double DVD edition includes three deleted scenes, a message from author Cressida Crowell, and several games like a "Viking Personality Test," "Learn to Draw Toothless" and so forth.

On top of these features, the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack boasts a filmmakers' commentary track, a featurette on the artistry of dragons, pop-up trivia, and an interactive picture-in-picture feature with storyboards, video and interviews.

Plus, a new animated short: "Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon."

"How to Train Your Dragon" hits video stories Friday, Oct. 15.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars

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