How to Train Your Dragon: Surprising Depth | Sunday Observer

How to Train Your Dragon: Surprising Depth

8 August, 2021

How to Train Your Dragon is a 2010 American computer-animated action fantasy film loosely based on the 2003 book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount Pictures.

The film was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois from a screenplay by Will Davies, Sanders, and DeBlois, and stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig.

The story takes place in a mythical Viking world where a young Viking teenager named Hiccup aspires to follow his tribe’s tradition of becoming a dragon slayer. After finally capturing his first dragon, a Night Fury, and with his chance at last of gaining the tribe’s acceptance, he finds that he no longer wants to kill the dragon and instead befriends it, even calling him Toothless.

‘How to Train Your Dragon’ premiered at the Gibson Amphitheater on March 21, 2010, and was released in the United States five days later on March 26. The film was a commercial success, earning nearly $500 million worldwide. It was widely acclaimed, being praised for its animation, voice acting, writing, musical score, and 3D sequences. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score at the 83rd Academy Awards, but lost to ’Toy Story 3’ and ’The Social Network’, respectively. ’How to Train Your Dragon’ also won ten Annie Awards, including Best Animated Feature.

Two sequels, ’How to Train Your Dragon 2’ and ’How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’, were released on June 13, 2014 and February 22, 2019, respectively. Much like their predecessor, both sequels were widely praised and became box office successes. The film’s success has also inspired other merchandise, becoming a franchise.

Making of the film

The book series by Cressida Cowell began coming to attention to the executives at DreamWorks Animation in 2004. Coming off her success in Over the Hedge, producer Bonnie Arnold shortly became interested in the newly acquired property. She kept focusing on the project as time went on, and when DreamWorks Animation co-president of production Bill Damaschke asked her what she wanted to work on next, she chose “How to Train Your Dragon”.

During initial development, the plot followed the original novel closely, but about halfway through production Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, previously the writers and directors of Disney’s ’Lilo & Stitch’, took over as co-directors and it was altered.

The original plot has been described by DeBlois as “heavily loyal to the book,” but was regarded as being too “sweet” and “whimsical” and geared to a younger demographic. In the novel, Hiccup’s dragon, Toothless, is believed to be a Common or Garden Dragon, a small breed. In the film, Toothless is an injured Night Fury, the rarest species of all dragons, far faster, aerodynamic and more powerful than the other species, and is large enough to serve as a flying mount for both Hiccup and Astrid.

The filmmakers hired cinematographer Roger Deakins (known for frequently collaborating with the Coen brothers) as a visual consultant to help them with lighting and overall look of the film and to “add a live-action feel”.

Extensive research was done to depict flight, as the directors knew they would be the biggest draw of the film’s 3D effects, and fire, given animation could break away from the limitations seen in live-action films, where propane flames are usual due to being easier to extinguish.

The dragons’ design made sure to create animals that were comical and also innovative compared to other dragon fiction. Toothless in particular tried to combine various dragon traits in a black panther-inspired design, that also had large ears and eyes to convey emotion better.

The directors made sure to cash in the improvisation abilities of the secondary cast — Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and T.J Miller — by frequently bringing them together in the recording sessions.


John Powell returned to DreamWorks Animation to score ’How to Train Your Dragon’, making it his sixth collaboration with the studio, following his previous score for ’Kung Fu Panda’ (which he scored with Hans Zimmer). Powell composed an orchestral score, combining bombastic brass with loud percussion and soothing strings, while also using exotic Scottish and Irish tones with instruments like the penny whistle and bagpipes. Additionally, Icelandic singer Jónsi wrote and performed the song ‘Sticks & Stones’ for the film. The score was released by Varèse Sarabande on March 23, 2010.

Overall, the score was well received by film score critics. Powell earned his first Academy Award nomination for his work on the film, ultimately losing to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their score for The Social Network.

Critical response

How to Train Your Dragon was widely praised upon its release. Review aggregator ’Rotten Tomatoes’ reported that 99% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 212 reviews from professional critics, with an overall rating average of 7.90/10. The website’s critical consensus states, “Boasting dazzling animation, a script with surprising dramatic depth, and thrilling 3-D sequences, ’How to Train Your Dragon’ soars.”

The film is DreamWorks Animation’s highest-rated film on the ’Rotten Tomatoes’ website. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 37 reviews from critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. CinemaScore polls conducted during the opening weekend revealed the average grade cinemagoers gave How to Train Your Dragon was “A” on an A+ to F scale.

Matt Risley of ’Variety’ wrote a highly positive review, hailing it as “undoubtedly Dreamworks’ best film yet, and quite probably the best dragon movie ever made”.James Berardinelli of ’ReelViews’ gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, and complemented both the “technically proficient” animation and the “witty, intelligent, surprisingly insightful script”. Claudia Puig of ’USA Today’ noted that the film had “surprising depth”, and praised the “sweetly poignant tale of friendship between man and animal.” ’Entertainment Weekly’ film critic Owen Gleiberman praised the film’s use of 3-D in all “its breathtaking spatial and emotional possibilities.” He gave it an A-rating.