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How to Train Your Dragon: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review (2014 Edition)

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) movie poster How to Train Your Dragon

Theatrical Release: March 26, 2010 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois / Writers: Will Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders (screenplay); Cressida Cowell (book)

Voice Cast: Jay Baruchel (Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III), Gerard Butler (Stoick the Vast), Craig Ferguson (Gobber the Belch), America Ferrera (Astrid Hofferson), Jonah Hill (Snotlout Jorgenson), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs Ingerman), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut Thorston), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut Thorston), Robin Atkin Downes (Ack), Philip McGrade (Starkard), Kieron Elliott (Hoark the Haggard), Ashley Jensen (Phlegma the Fierce), David Tennant (Spitelout)
How to Train Your Dragon is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).How to Train Your Dragon ranks 92nd in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

Buy How to Train Your Dragon from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

The perception of DreamWorks Animation has evolved from a crass, second-rate Pixar knock-off to a genuine competitor to the first and still most successful computer animation house. DreamWorks has developed artistic respectability, at the slight cost of commercial potency, by moving the targets of their Pixar admiration from the broad (subject matter, genre) to the more important (placing value on story and using sophisticated animation to enhance it).
No longer is DreamWorks the off-brand you can turn to for irreverence, innuendo, and a voice cast assembled purely for celebrity. Film and animation buffs still won't mistake a DreamWorks film for a Pixar or Disney one, but the critical receptions are increasingly comparable. And while the Jeffrey Katzenberg-run company still exists as a franchise factory, art increasingly seems as much a consideration as commerce.

Though you wouldn't know it from just the title, Kung Fu Panda was perhaps the film that got DreamWorks to reconfigure their priorities. That 2008 release, DreamWorks' first non-Shrek one to gross over $200 million domestically, succeeded on stellar reviews. Two years later, How to Train Your Dragon earned even better reviews and grossed a little bit more on spectacular word-of-mouth (and perhaps a bit of a 3D novelty bump, coming on the heels of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland). In a different year, it might have won DreamWorks their first in-house Best Animated Feature Oscar since the original Shrek, but Dragon had the misfortune of opening just three months before Pixar's exceptional Toy Story 3.

Nonetheless, Dragon seems to remain DreamWorks' most highly-regarded film to date. All four Shrek movies grossed more, but that lucrative series stands as the textbook definition of the word "overkill." Dragon has spawned a Cartoon Network TV series and its obligatory sequel opened in theaters yesterday, which is the reason that the original 2010 adventure was recently rereleased in the new Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Defying their species' long rivalry, Toothless the dragon and Hiccup the Viking become friends in "How to Train Your Dragon."

In voiceover narration, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), our teenaged pipsqueak of a protagonist, introduces us to Berk, an island located on "the Meridian of Misery." The Vikings who call Berk home endure nine-month winters and unusual pests: dragons. The fire-breathing flying monsters regularly intrude and damage this tough, old community. That explains why dragon-fighting is a way of life in Berk and the one that tribe chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) reluctantly agrees to let the clumsy Hiccup, his son, pursue.

Hiccup enters training with reservations, especially after secretly discovering that an elusive Night Fury dragon whose tail wing he injured isn't all that ferocious. Hiccup names the dragon Toothless and befriends the creature, using his tinkering skills to fashion him a prosthetic wing and even learning to ride on his back as a kind of co-pilot. The friendly experiences lead Hiccup to conclude that everything he thought he knew about dragons was wrong.

Vikings are a stubborn people, though, and resist buying into Hiccup's peaceful enlightenment. Stoick decides to pursue the bustling dragon nest where Toothless has flown Hiccup.

Tribal leader Stoick the Vast isn't quick to drop his misconceptions about dragons. Hiccup stands out next to trainees like Fishlegs at Dragon Academy.

Dragon is the most Pixar-like film DreamWorks has made. One of its top priorities is establishing an immersive original universe, one which seems to have inspired in some ways Pixar's Brave.
Dragon is not discovering new ground. For one thing, it loosely adapts the first in British author Cressida Cowell's series of children's books. It goes without saying that 2003 book was not the origin of dragon folklore. In film, originality isn't so much about invention but about not being obviously derivative of other successful films. In that regard, Dragon succeeds, taking an approach that's different from the comedies DreamWorks had previously made while not lifting any obvious elements from any of Pixar's many acclaimed triumphs.

The film dispatches a lot of information and numerous characters up front. That partially explains why it improves in a second viewing. This is an appealing tale, winning you over with the sweet friendship of two outcasts. In that way, Dragon is similar to the previous film from directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, Disney's traditionally-animated Lilo & Stitch. Dragon, whose helm Sanders and DeBlois took after Sanders was fired from what would become Bolt, forgoes the self-aware quirk and contemporary relevance of that 2002 Hawaiian hit, rendering it more universal and timeless.

Toothless, the real star of the film, can be described as a bigger, calmer, more cat-like version of Stitch. You don't often encounter such a character in animation. There are plenty of memorable sarcastic and witty characters out there. But just plain cute and cute enough for you to want him to stay safe and sound over everyone else from spunky Vikings to fellow dragons? That's uncommon and it distinguishes this cartoon as an animal movie, mythical or not. Those who ooh and aah at Milo and Otis or Marley are just as likely to fall for Toothless, forgetting that he's the digital creation of animators and not some real photogenic pet.

Dragon may be DreamWorks' best film to date, but it'd be in the shallow end of the Pixar pool, superior to perhaps just their three weakest efforts. The short explanation for that is that it simply fails to enchant and excite the way most of Pixar's movies do. Specifically, Dragon falters near its end, as its action climax lags a little as so many of those do, especially when robbed of the large scale impact of a theater screen. Other than that, it's a fine film, sporting nice animation, heart, and sincerity that distinguish it from its lesser CG contemporaries.

This two-disc set consists of a newly-authored Blu-ray and DVD, each differing from those sold in an assortment of editions.

How to Train Your Dragon: 2014 Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, DVS), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French; BD-only: English
Extras Subtitled; DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 27, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone new DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Blu-ray + DVD ($39.99 SRP), 1-Disc DVD ($29.99 SRP), Double DVD Pack ($37.99 SRP; October 15, 2010), Blu-ray ($34.98 SRP; February 4, 2011), and Blu-ray 3D + DVD ($49.99 SRP; September 6, 2011)

VIDEO and AUDIO

A computer animated film looking anything less than perfect on Blu-ray is unacceptable. Fortunately, this set's presumably recycled 2.40:1 transfer of Dragon is perfect, showcasing the winning visuals and impressive level of detail. The default soundtrack, a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, is every bit as satisfying too, immersing you in effects and score.

Speedstingers pose a paralyzing threat in the "Defenders of Berk" episode "Frozen." Gobber's unlucky ancestor Bork learns about different kinds of dragons in "Book of Dragons."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Frozen" (22:41), not the billion dollar-grossing Disney movie, but an episode of "Dragons: Defenders of Berk." In this second season installment (originally aired January 22, 2014), Hiccup leads his fellow trainees against Speedstingers, who are crippling Berk with their powers of paralysis. Delivering impressive production values, most of the original voice cast, but still only TV-quality writing, this episode is a terrific inclusion and one that obviously cannot be found on the film's original Blu-ray and DVD releases.

Next up comes Book of Dragons (17:38), a short that premiered as a bonus feature on Gift of the Night Fury's individual 2011 DVD and Blu-ray releases. The primarily 2D Flash-animated piece educates a new recruit on the various classes of dragons out there as documented by Gobber's unlucky ancestor Bork. It's not much but it is diverting and again makes nice use of the original voice cast (if largely just in narration).

The interactive Ultimate Book of Dragons brings the manual to life with information on Skrill and thirteen other species. Jonah Hill looks the part of Snotlout while recording his lines in "Viking-Sized Cast."

Another supplement ported from Gift, "The Ultimate Book of Dragons" is an interactive feature that informs you on fourteen different types of dragons in seven different classes.
Every species is treated to stats, sketches, translated notes, and animation. Many also include a short video of training tips narrated by Gobber. Whether you just sample it or go through it with a fine-tooth comb, you should appreciate how faithfully and creatively this thorough resource manual has been brought to life.

Audio commentary is provided by producer Bonnie Arnold and writers-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois. The long production and relatively short runtime give them plenty to say on topics like paring things down and keeping the core strong, though they don't show much energy or find the most engaging tone.

The Animators' Corner adds another layer to the commentary, with picture-in-picture video adding cast and crew interviews, storyboards, and making-of footage while pre-empting the commentary every so often. At other times, we see the trio recording their commentary. All in all, it's a solid presentation that rises above the level of just plain commentary.

"Viking-Sized Cast" (11:44) celebrates the film's voice actors. For once, DreamWorks seems to have opted for finding suitable talent over superstars. The actors' remarks on their characters and footage of recording sessions satisfy on a basic level.

Gabe Hordos illustrates "How to Draw a Dragon" in his Toothless tutorial. Author Cressida Cowell shares "The Story Behind the Story" and some family photos as well.

"How to Draw a Dragon" (10:47) has Toothless supervising animator Gabe Hordos taking you step by step through drawing the film's lead dragon. These types of features are always welcome for the artistically inclined viewer.

"The Story Behind the Story" (7:40) gets some insight into this universe from author Cressida Cowell (who shares family photos) and the filmmakers who chose to adapt it.

"The Technical Artistry of Dragon" (10:13) celebrates the film's animation and effects, discussing the technical challenges and features of the visuals.

"Gobber's Training Secrets" (2:10) collects the six training lessons/demonstrations featured in "The Ultimate Book of Dragons", which seem to have been refashioned, not produced for that.

A trivia track dispatches a steady flow of facts over playback of the film, often relating to what's onscreen or what's being said. Nicely, it can be paired up with the audio commentary, should you want to spruce up a repeat viewing with two layers of information. The technology conflict prevents you from enjoying the trivia track and the Animators' Corner at the same time, however.

Not everything from the movie's previous Blu-ray makes the cut here. Two notable items become DVD-exclusive: deleted scenes and the made-for-video short Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon.

Astrid looks around while apprentice Hiccup sharpens a sword in this deleted scene. A young Gobber discovers frozen Vikings in "Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon."

Three deleted scenes presented in story reel format are introduced by Dean DeBlois. They consist of Astrid digging around Hiccup's shop (4:58), Gobber serving as go-between for Stoick and Hiccup (1:31), and Hiccup stumbling upon Stoick's plan (1:05).

In Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon (16:34), Gobber (Craig Ferguson) regales the trainees with stories of his improbable encounters with the possibly not real BoneKnapper dragon (presented in stylized 2D) while getting stranded with them.
DreamWorks was clearly pouring a lot of effort into these made-for-video shorts back then, but this is kind of uneven and so-so.

The DVD also includes the audio commentary and the TV show episode "Frozen."

The discs open with trailers for How to Train Your Dragon 2, "DreamWorks Dragons" Riders of Berk and Defenders of Berk DVDs, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Each is individually accessible from a Previews submenu (sillily labeled "Keep Out!" on the DVD), but unfortunately we don't get any of Dragon's original trailers.

Not everything from Dragon's previous releases make the cut here. Gone are TV promos, games, a promotional DreamWorks section, a Viking Personality test, and a BD-Live section, employing once highly-advertised technology that's essentially been retired.

A Gronckle and Astrid get their turn on the "How to Train Your Dragon" DVD main menu.

The Blu-ray's menu journeys to different parts in and around Berk, with 16:9 screen-filling movie clips. The DVD's menus use those little Viking and dragon animated training bits. On both formats, inactivity prompts the film to start playing. Like most Paramount Blu-rays, this one lets you set bookmarks, but does not allow you to resume unfinished playback.

Finally and most importantly to some, a sticker on the embossed slipcover provides you a unique code with which to print a certificate for up to $7.50 of a movie admission to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. Spine calls this How to Train Your Dragon 1, emphasizing the Dragon 1 part. An insert holding your UltraViolet/iTunes format digital copy accompanies the two plainly labeled blue and gray discs.

Hiccup flies Toothless in "How to Train Your Dragon."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

How to Train Your Dragon is a very good movie, probably even DreamWorks Animation's best. I can't pretend I'm itching to see a sequel, but I can appreciate this original one, which improves on a second viewing.

This new combo pack probably cannot be considered a clear improvement over the one released back in 2010. It does add Digital HD/UltraViolet, an episode of the TV show, and a couple of features from Gift of the Night Fury's release. But it lacks that special itself, loses some minor extras from the previous combo pack, and relegates two things to DVD. While it may not be a worthwhile second buy, it is an excellent first one, especially for those intending to use the movie cash to see the sequel in theaters.

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Reviewed June 14, 2014.



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