How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
I’d rate this the best film yet from Dreamworks Animation (probably best known for the Shrek series). Based loosely on a children’s book by Cressida Cowell, it’s the story of an adolescent boy named Hiccup (a really stupid name, but the rest of the film makes up for it), who lives in a Viking village on island that’s regularly raided by different sorts of dragons, who steal sheep, start fires, bite off limbs, and worse. Unlike his imposing father, the leader of the village, Hiccup is a scrawny klutz. He dreams of someday slaying a dragon to earn some respect (not to mention get a date), but when he’s alone in a remote part of the island and has a chance to kill a wounded dragon, he just can’t bring himself to do it.
In fact, he secretly makes the dragon his pet, and eventually learns to ride it. (This is a film I regret not seeing it in 3D, because the flying sequences must have been exhilarating.)
Meanwhile his father puts him in dragon combat training, and to everyone’s astonishment he starts to do really well at it, mainly by using things he’s learned from experience with his secret pet. It helps that he’s not actually supposed to destroy the dragons he battles during training (captive dragons presumably being hard to come by). He’s mainly supposed to learn how to avoid being killed by them, at least until the final lesson, when the best student will be granted the honor of making a kill.
There’s nothing very original about his relationship with a loving but disappointed father or his unlikely romance with Astrid, the dangerous young beauty of his dreams (and those of most of the other boys on the island). But as with several films I’ve seen recently, the personalities and the dialog more than make up for plot clichés, especially the characters of Hiccup, Astrid, and the pet dragon. Recommended.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
The sequel, set five years after the first film, finds Hiccup a far more respected member of his island community, but he prefers solitary exploring on the back of his pet dragon to accepting new responsibilities in the village. On one such flight he encounters more captive dragons and eventually learns the identity of a mysterious Dragon Rider and of a villain’s plot to place all dragons, and a good amount of territory, under his control.
This leads to major battles and some tragedies and a considerable change in mood from the first film, with parts of it considerably darker. I liked it a fair amount less than the original, but other people liked it more. The filmmakers intended for this to be the middle film of a trilogy, but it tells a complete story and leaves nothing hanging.
Trailers for both films