Technically proficient and featuring a witty, intelligent, surprisingly insightful script, How to Train Your Dragon comes close to the level of Pixar's recent output while easily exceeding the juvenilia Dreamworks has released in the last nine years.
At a time when Hollywood seems to be releasing everything this side of Dead Sea Scrolls documentaries in 3-D, How to Train Your Dragon is a briskly paced computer-animated entertainment that uses the format to maximum effect, the way Avatar does.
With its messages about acceptance, respect and tolerance, How To Train Your Dragon also brings some lessons of its own, including some valuable tools for doing battle with dragons, should the need arise.
It's a thrilling action-adventure saga with exhilarating 3-D animation, a clever comedy with witty dialogue, a coming-of-age tale with surprising depth and a sweetly poignant tale of friendship between man and animal.
There are times the action lags, and when the dialogue falls back on pop cultural references it feels contrived and forced but, mostly, like the mythical creatures at the heart of this tale, the movie soars.
How to Train Your Dragon doesn't have the depth and resonance of a classic, but the picture's modesty is refreshing,and its artistry is awe-inspiring (the lighting and cinematography are particularly impressive).
The superb cinematographer Roger Deakins served as a visual consultant, pushing the palette to an unusually burnished and sophisticated level. Kids may not notice the visual texture consciously, but adults will. Or should.
It's more coming-of-age dramedy or "everything about your world view is wrong" message movie than it is a comedy. And that seems like a waste of a funny book, some very funny actors and some darned witty animation.
Embedded among the standard platitudes of parental tolerance and teens finding their own way, is the notion that we should try to understand our 'enemies' instead of engaging them in perpetual, passed-through-generations warfare.
With How to Train Your Dragon, the filmmakers tone down the glib factor and tell a pretty good action yarn, a boy-and-his-dragon story filled with fiery Viking battles, swordplay and dazzling aerial imagery aboard the flying reptiles.