Who's In It: Voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson
The Basics: The dragons are to be feared, of course. So you battle and kill them. Unless you're a misfit Viking boy who stumbles into saving and befriending one. What follows is a lesson in how to love the "other" by understanding them. What also follows is a lot of 3D action, battles and flying sequences, which is what you want from 3D, otherwise there's no point. Of course, nothing in this plot will come as a surprise to anyone whose age can be counted in double digits, but then, it's not necessarily what you invent that counts but what you do with well-worn themes. A song you've heard before can always be moving when sung with a fresh voice.
What's The Deal: The technology and trending that's forcing 3D onto all of us even when it's not always necessary needs a warm touch to avoid turning empty spectacle. Look at the hollow-eyed, flight-simulator video game that was A Christmas Carol. Actually don't look at it. Look at this instead. It has that warm touch. Like Up, it knows when to be funny, when to lay on the action and when to be moving. It values sincerity over wannabe hipster chatter that will date faster than Robin Williams manic-riffing through a genie. And it never comes off as preachy, heavy or moralizing. If it were easy to pull off then every animated feature would feel this well cared for, but it must not be since it's always a joyful surprise when they get it right.
Where It Comes From: The book by Cressida Cowell, but more importantly from Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the creative partnership behind Disney's best (and underrated) 2D animated feature of the past decade, Lilo & Stitch. Like that film this one is idiosyncratic without feeling gimmicky, isn't afraid of emotion but never feels gooey, and make sure its humor is smart but not aimed too squarely at grown-ups. And in the interest of full journalistic disclosure, I have to say that I know DeBlois. But even if he were a total stranger to me I'd still be praising this one.
Career Advice For Gerard Butler That He'll Never Read: Less grim rom-coms like The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter. More this. Please. More jolly gruff Viking voices. You're totally appealing when you want to be. It's just that so far it seems like your strengths lie in stuff like this or in killing the hell out of everyone in junk like 300 and Law Abiding Citizen.
Besides Lilo & Stitch, See Also: E.T. Well, you probably already have. But your kids haven't yet, I bet. And if this one reminds you of that other tale of unlikely friendship between a boy and his creature, then it's time to introduce them.