(Before I begin raving about this movie, I want to note that it was literally impossible to find a poster that doesn't have "3D" on it. Add this to the fact that DreamWorks has decreed that no theaters may show the movie in 2D if they don't allow it in 3D, and you see how the 3D movement is similar to propaganda of the worst kind. Ehem.)
I don't know if DreamWorks is back on track with their animation or it's just Chris Sanders that is the master of his craft, but How To Train Your Dragon is absolutely fantastic.
It's nothing of Pixar's quality, but when it comes to animation what is? It's the perfect family film. It's better than most of the animated movies DreamWorks has done, and while its only downfall is a heavy dose of cliché in the final act, How To Train Your Dragon makes up for it with an incredibly surprising move at the end - one that brings this movie from a 4 to a 5.
The animation is awesome. The design of the main dragon is adorable beyond words. Chris Sanders seems incapable of making creatures we don't love. Be it Stitch or the original design for Bolt (before John Lasseter banged the Mighty Hammer of Disney and kicked Sanders off the project), he gives us characters we care about, and that is one of the biggest reasons this movie is fantastic.
Toothless the dragon is absolutely great. He has the combined likabilities of both cats and dogs, so he is almost certainly destined to appeal to all audiences. I personally had a smile on my face for most of Toothless' screen time. Couple that with the fact that Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is almost just as likable and you have the ingredients for a great movie.
The final touches come with the art and the music. Each of these things are outstanding. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois paint a beautiful picture of some pretty thick (in every sense of the word) vikings. John Powell has also written one of his best scores ever. The combined effect is something I have been missing in DreamWorks animation in the past - totally engrossing scenes. When Hiccup rides his dragon, you ride his dragon. It's absolutely great, and the scene where they take their first flight is one of the best singular movie scenes in years.
The voice acting rocks. I'm so glad Jay Baruchel has established himself as a full blown star. I've been waiting for a while for that to happen. His quirky and nerdy way of talking suits Hiccup perfectly, and makes you love him, so much even that you get less angry about the fact that his name is Hiccup. Also lending their vocals are Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. All of them are great because they do something that you don't often see in DreamWorks animation: they play characters. When they're talking, you're not focused on the billing of the actor. You're focused on the character.
Even though compared to the grand scheme of movies in the world How To Train Your Dragon deserves a 4, I'm going to give it a 5. I can't remember the last time I saw an animated family film this good. Pixar is always great, but you can't really label them as family films the way DreamWorks does. How To Train Your Dragon deserves a 5 because, in a day and age where almost every movie seems like the same, it's refreshing to find yourself engrossed in something that makes you feel this good - as refreshing as a brisk dragon flight through the sky.
(One last thing - I didn't see this in 3D, and I loved it. I don't know how the 3D is, so I can't bash it. But if I liked it this much in 2D, why go pay lots of extra money to see the movie 5 shades darker and in the most distracting way possible? Your call.)