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How to Train Your Dragon

Year: 2010
Studio: Dreamworks Animation
Director: Dean Deblois/Chris Sanders
Writer: Dean Deblois/Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T J Miller, Kristen Wiig

The trick to getting a book published is to write something the same but different. They all want the next Da Vinci Code or Twilight, but if you go and rewrite a blatant Da Vinci Code or Twilight rip off they'll tell you it's just a copy. Try again on something nothing like the Da Vinci Code or Twilight and they'll tell you it's just not enough like what's selling right now.

Authors tear their hair out over such conflicting advice, but Hollywood understands it perfectly, as I realised while watching this film. How to Train Your Dragon is both original and instantly recognisable, the secret to pleasing the multiplex masses. I think the secret is to take some very established Hollywood conventions (make the hero just like the modern teenager audience, have a love interest, follow a very well worn rhythm of story/action/story/action, etc.) and apply them to a story a writer has dreamed up about amazing things in faraway places.

We see just that in Hiccup (Baruchel), a nerdy kid who has a crush on the cool girl, whose friends don't understand him because he doesn't share their interests, who even has issues with his father Stoick (Butler) because he feels he hasn't turned out the big tough guy his Dad wanted.

But Hiccup isn't the leader of the science club or trying out for the Lacrosse team. He's a kid in a village under siege by various species of dragon in the time of the Vikings. When his peers are trained to be dragonslayers, he unwittingly befriends one of the species considered to be the most fearsome.

The other reason it's familiar is because Hollywood has the resources to lay multiple levels of slickness to the end product. You can see it in the scene of Hiccup interacting with his secret pet, whom he calls Toothless. The animators and director catch every personality tic that we know from having a cat or a dog and put them to great effect.

A bunch of chase scenes, flying sequences that make great use of the 3D and plenty of jokes targeted at the modern era round things out, and even though it's a story you've never heard and you'll have a very satisfying time watching it, you just know you've seen it all before.

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