Who's In It: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller, Craig Ferguson, David Tennant
The Basics: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is the worst Viking in his village -- scrawny, uncoordinated, and way not into the bloodthirsty, dragon-slaying warrior code his people have lived by for hundreds of years. Desperate to prove his worth and earn the approval of his father, the burly leader of the Vikings (Gerard Butler), Hiccup captures the most feared dragon of them all: the sleek and deadly Night Fury. Unable to bring himself to kill the creature, Hiccup instead begins to bond with it, and together the boy and his pet dragon set out to bring peace to Viking and dragonkind by defeating a much more sinister enemy. Based on Cressida Cowell's book of the same name.
What's The Deal: This heartwarming tale of a boy and his dragon is one of the best surprises of 2010, a CG animated family adventure packed with thrills, humor, and emotion that youngsters and grown-ups alike can lose themselves in. Filmmakers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) set the pace from the start with a rollicking battle sequence that introduces us to Baruchel's Hiccup, who navigates dragon fire and catapults as the camera slyly apes Paul Greengrass with a faux-handheld look at the chaotic Viking village of Berk under attack. From there the film develops an engaging rhythm as Hiccup balances Viking training with his secret life taming, befriending, and learning to fly with his pet dragon, Toothless, while his Viking brethren mount war against the beasts unaware of his covert activities. But for all of its thrilling action, How to Train Your Dragon is at its best when it taps into the special unspoken bond at the heart of it all: the love and loyalty between a kid and his pet.
Why You Should Splurge For Three Dimensions: How to Train Your Dragon is a film that will make family night at the movies worth the price of admission again -- especially in 3D. The littlest tykes may find a few early dragon scenes terrifying, but once Toothless is tamed, it's clear that dragons are meant to be Viking's best friend. (It doesn't hurt that Toothless vaguely looks like the adorable Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, cross-bred with a stealth bomber and a bat.) Scenes of Hiccup and Toothless soaring above the clouds and various dragon and Viking battle action truly are enhanced by 3D and will have the little ones mesmerized, if the hundreds of kids at my screening are any indication.
Best Wordless Vignette Since Up: Hiccup and Toothless get to know each other for the first time in an adorable early sequence, when Hiccup discovers everything he's been taught about dragons is wrong -- Toothless is just as sweet as (and maybe a bit smarter than) your average puppy or kitten. A wild, lethal, fire-breathing puppy or kitten.
Cast Member Getting The Biggest Career Boost: Jay Baruchel, who unfortunately makes more of an impact here with just his voice performance than he did in his first an actual leading man role in She's Out of My League. But hey, better animated than never? Also: Gerard Butler, who's turn as Baruchel's father puts his Scottish accent to good use and brings him one step closer to atoning for this month's The Bounty Hunter. But just one step.
Who'll Love This Movie The Most: Kids still young enough to like dragons more than Twilight, dog lovers, cat lovers, bat lovers, animation fans, Viking enthusiasts, film critics who may or may not have cried at the end of the movie but will never admit to it on record…