HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON — ★★★ — Animated feature starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and others; shown in the 2-D, 3-D and 3-D IMAX format; rated PG (violence, slurs, vulgarity); in general release
"How to Train Your Dragon" may not be the most original animated film to come our way in quite some time.
And, as good as its digitally rendered animation may be, it's still not the kind of thing that's going to make us forget Disney-Pixar's industry-topping wizardry.
Yet for its handful of faults, "Dragon" is one of the better movies to emerge from this still-young year.
In both its tone and its look, this animated fantasy-adventure will remind some of "Kung Fu Panda," another cartoon feature that was a lot more fun and enjoyable than it had any right to be.
And like that earlier film, "Dragon" also has a very good voice cast. Jay Baruchel stars as the voice of Hiccup, a Viking teenager.
This lanky weakling is having a hard time living up to the standards of his father, nearly legendary dragon slayer Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler).
However, during a battle, Hiccup gets in a lucky shot and downs a stealthy "night fury," an elusive but destructive dragon species. But rather than killing the injured creature, Hiccup nurses it back to health.
And thus a friendship develops between man and beast, who Hiccup nicknames Toothless.
Together, these two may be able to prevent Hiccup's fellow Vikings and the other dragons from entering into a full-on war that could destroy both sides.
Fans of the Cressida Cowell books may cringe at some of the changes filmmakers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois ("Lilo & Stitch") have made to the concepts and the characters.
(Among other things, it's never explained why some of the Vikings — Butler and Craig Ferguson's characters, in particular — have Scottish accents while others do not.)
But most of these changes make sense in the context of the film, which is well-paced and has enough action and laughs to keep both kids and their parents entertained.
Also, most of the voices seem appropriate for the characters, particularly the likable Baruchel.
Be advised, though, that there are a couple of upsetting moments — particularly a big battle sequence toward the end — though these are somewhat mild in comparison to this film's live-action cousins.
"How to Train Your Dragon" is rated PG and features occasional strong violent content and imagery (dragon and other creature attacks, brawling and swordplay, some slapstick, fiery mayhem and children-in-peril elements), derogatory language and slurs, and some crude humor and references (including digestive gags, mucus jokes and the like). Running time: 95 minutes.