Family/Adventure | rated PG (V) | starring voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, TJ Miller, Kristin Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse | directed by Dean DuBlois and Chris Sanders | 1:38 mins

On the small viking island of Berk, the society and culture has revolved around the battle to eradicate the pests that haunt their countryside – dragons. Young Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is incappable of keeping up with the more skilled viking hunters, but he shoots down an elusive species of dragon known as a Night Furry and when he can’t kill it, the two form a bond of friendship. Soon Hiccup leans that everything the vikings know about dragons is wrong. An ignorance that could prove disasterous for the whole village.

At it’s core, How to Train Your Dragon is rooted in the same respect-for-nature, what-we-think-is-bad-really-isn’t story that many family films are. With a side of the dissapointed father story to boot. But what writer/directors Dean DuBlois and Chris Sanders (of the equally wonderful Lilo & Stitch) do with this kernal is remarkable. A wonderful adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s book series, the film is a painstakingly detailed construction of this viking world from the ground up. It’s a beautiful melding of music and images, with a bright pallette painted of dragon’s swooping across magestic seascapes mixed with John Powell delivering one of the most sweeping and perfectly toned musical scores of any recent family film – or adventure film period.

The flying sequences in this movie, from a romantic dusk flight to rival the magic carpet ride in Aladdin to the zipping through jagged cliffs in the action scenes, are better than the flight sequences in Avatar. Yeah, I said it. We really get the disorienting sense of what it might be like to fly atop a dragon.

The details infused in the universe and the real emotion conveyed by these characters are what sets Dragon at the top of the animated family film genre. A genre that already seems to be going through a renaissance this year with one seamingly effortlessly terrific movie after another. The nuances in the character behavior are rich and there is a father/son argument late in the film with an intensity to rival any live-action movie. I appreciated the care that was taken to the actual dragon training part of How to Train Your Dragon. In another film this would be glossed over in a montage or the Night Furry would be giving all sorts of anamorphic qualities. But Dragon takes the care to set up the Night Furry, later named Toothless, as a beast with animal (actually cat-like) qualities and uses several nicely constructed sequences to bridge the species divide and show how Hiccup would come to tame and ride him, during which time a believable bond is formed. The training sequences, normally filler before the action, are beautiful here. This attention to set-up adds even greater weight to the epic 3rd act when the film follows the Pixar formula and explodes in a gripping, thrilling (scary for the young ones) battle sequence.

I also loved the world the movie created, specifically this was one dragon movie where a dragon isn’t just a dragon. There are several dragon species each with different qualities and different ways to kill them. All distinctly different in color and animation design. All cleverly analagous to the kids being trained to fight them in the rites-of-passage trials.

While the voice talent comes from the usual stable of Dreamworks celebrity voice casting it posesses none of the obnoxious catered-to-lines and bad jokes usually found in one of their animated films. How to Train Your Dragon is certainly the best movie the Dreamworks animation studio has made and a step foward in family films in general. A cartoon used to be considered adult when the theme behind it was adult-oriented and sophisticated (a la Toy Story). Now the characters emote, the voice talent is spot-on, the feelings are realistic, the themes are clever and the production is invigoratingly fresh – it all comes together and all within a beautifully realized fantasy world that only animation can deliver.