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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

How to Train Your Dragon (Blu-ray Disc)

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How to Train Your Dragon
2010 (2010) - DreamWorks Animation (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray on October 15th, 2010
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: B-

DreamWorks Animation has been trying for a long time to release a truly great CG film, and with How to Train Your Dragon, I think they've finally nailed it. Yes, it's based on a children's book by Cressida Cowell, so it wouldn't quite be fair to call it original. But the film's premise and setting present a refreshing twist on a pretty familiar genre, and the visual style is markedly different from other CG-animated fare.

The film's story is completely charming and entertaining from start to finish. It also helps that, while the film follows the traditional animation trend of casting famous actors to voice its characters, none of them are so big or over-exposed as to dominate or overwhelm the rest of the cast - something that can't be said for most of DreamWorks' other CG titles (Shrek comes quickly to mind).

How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking boy who doesn't exactly live up to the fearsome reputation of the rest of his clan. His father and clan chieftain, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), has been afraid to let him train as a warrior with the rest of the kids in the village, so Hiccup's been working instead as an apprentice to the local blacksmith, Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson). Gobber and Hiccup make weapons to help defend the village, which is plagued nightly by attacking dragons of all shapes and sizes. In the process, it's become Hiccup's dream to slay the most fearsome and mysterious dragon - the dreaded Night Fury - to finally gain the respect of his father. So during an attack one night, Hiccup uses a weapon he's invented to knock the Night Fury out of the sky. The next morning, he finds the Fury wounded and means to kill it... but he can't. Sparing it instead, Hiccup soon discovers that the Fury (like all dragons) has a personality. It's suspicious of him at first, but quickly becomes playful with Hiccup and even friendly. Before long, the two have become fast friends. But how can Hiccup ever win his father's respect when he's befriended one of the clan's mortal enemy?

DreamWorks' Blu-ray image is stylish and thrilling - a visual roller coaster ride. The 1080p presentation is of very high quality, as you'd expect of any CG-animated film, with outstanding color and contrast. While they were designed for 3D presentation in theatres, the film's visuals hold up fine in 2D as well (though expect a Blu-ray 3D version to be available later in 2011 - it's initially due to be a Samsung hardware exclusive this holiday season). The filmmakers actually consulted cinematographer Roger Deakins (best known for his work with the Coen Brothers) to develop the visual style, giving the CG-animation a strikingly atmospheric touch. The film's audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless mix that's smooth, lively and immersive, matching the visuals perfectly.

Extras on the Blu-ray include a 16-minute animated short sequel to the film, called The Legend of the Bone-Knapper Dragon, a trio of deleted scenes in various stages of completion, featurettes on the cast, story and animation, a series of Winter Olympic shorts and the like. For older fans, there's an Animator's Corner PiP viewing more, audio commentary with the filmmakers and a trivia track. For younger fans, there's the usual DreamWorks Animation jukebox, a drawing tutorial and a couple of games. There are also previews for other titles, and the Combo pack includes bonus DVD version of the film. Strangely, the best extra for this film isn't even on the physical disc - it's a 52-minute behind-the-scenes documentary called Finding the Story. (DreamWorks was kind enough to provide a review copy on Blu-ray. I'd give it a B all by itself, but since it's not actually on the disc, that isn't reflected in the extras grade above.) The good news is that it's going to be made available via BD-Live starting on street date, so those of you with network-connected players or BD drives will be able to watch it. The bad news, of course, is that it's not likely to be available forever. So enjoy it while you can. On the whole, however, the extras you do get are good and mostly worth a look, though there's only limited appeal for older fans.

I'm pleased to say that How to Train Your Dragon is DreamWorks' best and most original animated film to date. If you missed it in theatres, as I did, I highly recommend that you catch it on DVD or Blu-ray, because it's engaging and well worth your time no matter what your age. If you happen have kids, I'm betting you'll enjoy it just as much as they do. Thoroughly entertaining!

Bill Hunt
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