The Vikings on the island of Berk have this pest problem - dragons.
They're dogged by dragons of every shape, size and description. Worst of all is the Night Fury. You can't even see that dragon when it plunges out of the darkness to snatch people and livestock, burn barns and homes, and generally lower property values.
Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a scrawny kid who longs to do his part because "killing a dragon is everything around here." But he'll have to do it with inventions. He's plainly not tough enough to handle a broadsword or battle-ax to the satisfaction of his dad, the chieftain Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).
Hiccup's lack of a killer instinct and inability to impress his dad come to a head when he captures a Night Fury. Because once he sees how gentle dragons can be, Dad will no longer be upset that Hiccup can't kill them.
DreamWorks hired the directors of "Lilo & Stitch" to turn Cressida Cowell's romp of a novel into an animated film and can't be too surprised that they made, in essence, "Hiccup & Stitch." It's a cuddly cartoon character comedy that emphasizes heart over one-liners, message over laughs.
But as sweet as it is, there's not enough heart to make up for the lack of ready laughs. No matter how adorably Stitch-like the Night Fury is (rolling on his back like a dog, making those big Disney eyes), I wanted more Viking jokes, more bluster from Butler, more zingers from Ferguson (the late-night host voices a peg-legged blacksmith). It's more coming-of-age dramedy or "everything about your worldview is wrong" message movie than it is a comedy. And that seems like a waste of a funny book, some very funny actors and witty animation.
'Dragon' back story
Animated movies can take forever to make - three or four years is well within the ordinary. "How to Train Your Dragon" moved at a radically different pace: The two filmmakers behind the 3-D adventure had just 12 months to make their film, inheriting a project needing a top-to-bottom overhaul.
Pressed for time, writer-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (the team behind 2002's "Lilo & Stitch") tried to avoid some of the pitfalls - such as polishing a joke to within an inch of its life - that an unhurried production schedule often engenders.
"It's a model that allows for too much indecision," DeBlois says of the often endless stops and starts in making most animated movies. "You can get into a situation where the only thing that 30 people in a room can agree on is a cliche."
In the studio's efforts to remain true to Cressida Cowell's original reluctant-hero story, first director Peter Hastings assembled a movie that in DreamWorks' view played more to the "SpongeBob SquarePants" crowd than followers of "Harry Potter." As the studio saw it, that faithfulness became a perceived liability, so a new team was brought in.