How to Train Your Dragon fires up both kids and adults

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

With an 8-year-old boy in the house, we're pretty knowledgeable about dragons. We've got all the dragon books and have seen all the dragon movies—even the scary ones that other parents don't let their kids see, like Lair of the White Worm and Dragon Wars: D-War.

So when a favorite dragon book, How to Train Your Dragon by young Viking writer Hiccup Horrendous Haddock (aka Cressida Cowell), was being made into a movie, it was a highly anticipated big deal.

What's most amazing is how the movie can keep a wild bunch of five 8-year-old boys transfixed (and quiet) at a screening for an hour and 38 minutes and also be a fun ride for grown-ups, too. Who knew?

And we learned a lot more about dragons than ever before, because the movie expands the common mythology of the winged beasts and adds a few fascinating new facts—much as the book does, in painstaking detail. The book is more like a supplement to the movie, like Cliffs Notes for dragons, if you will.

First of all, the movie details all sorts of breeds of dragons, including ones that spit boiling water and some that have two heads. They come in all colors of the rainbow and all different shapes and sizes.

The Terrible Terror is a cute little one that co-directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois describe as the "Chihuahua of the dragon world," and another favorite was the bright blue constantly attacking Nadder. There's the stealthy, snake-like Hideous Zippleback, which breathes gas, and the Monstrous Nightmare, known as the "Alpha dragon" among Viking dragon slayers.

The boys in our group seemed to prefer the big, fat, puffy and goofy Gronckle, sort of like a fat flying warthog. But their ultimate favorite was the sleek, black, catlike Night Fury. That's described as the most savage and most mysterious of all the dragons, a kind of stealth bomber of the species.

So when young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) actually wings a Night Fury and secretly befriends the beast when he discovers that he doesn't want to kill it, the young aspiring dragon slayer tries to explain that to his father (Gerard Butler). Of course, his dad is leader of the rough Viking warriors and sees his scrawny son as a sort of disappointment. Hiccup is shipped off to dragon training school anyway.

There Hiccup meets a funny group of Viking apprentices, including brother-sister twins, a chubby smart kid and a spunky, tough girl (voiced by Ugly Betty's America Ferrera) who seems to take an interest in Hiccup.

The voice cast includes Craig Ferguson, Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill, as well as former Doctor Who star David Tennant.

Ultimately, although it was animated and in 3-D, How to Train Your Dragon got a higher thumbs-up from the boys than live-action counterparts such as Eragon. This crew are a bunch of experts, too, knowing everything from Pete's Dragon to Dragonslayer, Dragonheart to Reign of Fire (which is still my all-time favorite dragon movie).

Hiccup is constantly trying to impress his father. He almost kills himself in the process, but there's little doubt that he will somehow succeed. It's the fate of the Night Fury that Hiccup nicknamed "Toothless" that might be in question along the way.

The 3-D action sequences are as breathtaking as Avatar, and there are a few scenic moments too, like the first time that Hiccup takes his new girlfriend on a ride over the city on Toothless.

It gives kids a sense of self-worth. Even when his father says, "He was different from the time he could crawl," Hiccup does redeem himself and is able to fulfill his dream and still earn respect from his dad.

Although it's an exciting ride to an easily predictable yarn, this is one kids' movie that is fun for everyone. Even though they saw a free screening a week before opening, the five boys we went with all plan on going again on opening day Friday.

Don't expect the boys to identify too much with the boy, Hiccup, however. No, he reminds them more of the nerdy kid in class who tries a bit too hard.

They'd rather be one of the cool-looking dragons: maybe a Nadder or a Gronckle, or most definitely a Night Fury like Toothless.

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