Hollywood Product: How To Train Your Dragon

Lavish designs, thrilling battle scenes and breezy comedy characterize new DreamWorks flick

GENRE: CGI fantasy adventure

THE PITCH: A wimpy Viking named Hiccup (voiced by She's Out of My League's Jay Baruchel) captures a dragon and opts to train, rather than kill, it in defiance of the violent traditions embodied by his father, chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).

MONEY SHOTS: The Vikings fend off a nighttime raid from various breeds of dragons. Hiccup and his peers learn to fight by battling hilariously dangerous dragons in an arena. A montage shows Hiccup apply aeronautical principles to his dragon, named Toothless. Not to spoil anything, the final battle involves an adversary on a massive scale.

MONEY SOUND: When Stoick's ships approach an island with a potential dragon nest, an eerie rattle fills the air and abruptly stops when he sets foot on land.

CELEBRITY VOICES: Talk show host Craig Ferguson gives his burr a workout as hook-handed, peg-legged trainer. "Ugly Betty's" America Ferrera voices an ass-kicking warrior wench, Astrid, whom Hiccup adores. Kristen Wiig and Superbad co-stars Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse voice Hiccup's fellow trainees, although a lot of the jokes get lost in the action.

BEST LINE: "The food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people are even more so," Hiccup says of his home island of Berk.

WORST LINE: "Figure out which side you're on!" Astrid tells Hiccup, before she even knows he's training a dragon.

BODY COUNT: Despite the constant, oft-comic threat of death, the only fatalities befall sheep, fish and other animals. The Vikings practically rejoice in their scars and injuries. At the end, a sympathetic character makes a surprising sacrifice for a family film.

FASHION STATEMENT: Stoick shows kindness to his son by giving him his first horned Viking hat: "Your mother would've wanted you to have it. It's half of her breastplate."

THE MUZZLE IS FAMILIAR: Co-director Chris Sanders helmed Disney's Lilo & Stitch. Consequently, Hiccup bears a resemblance to Stitch, the previous film's mischievous alien.

BETTER THAN THE BOOKS? Yes. The film looks almost nothing like Cressida Cowell's entertaining originals, in which dragons are domesticated hunting animals, and Toothless turns out to be a useless, stubborn beast about the size and disposition of a house cat. The film opts for much more familiar tropes about pacifism and getting along but in the service of a thrilling adventure story.

MAKE THE UPGRADE? Totally. It makes satisfying, spectacular use of the 3-D IMAX format, with shots of island hills or the prows of massive ships revealing astonishingly life-like depth. (The near-sighted should wear contacts if possible, because the Mall of Georgia's 3-D glasses fit poorly atop prescription spectacles.)

HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Why are the lovable, klutzy oddballs in cartoon features so often would-be inventors? Hiccups predecessors include the heroes of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, A Bug's Life, and even Belle's father in Beauty and the Beast.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Matching lavish designs, thrilling battle scenes and breezy comedy, How to Train Your Dragon does for dragon-fighting what Kung Fu Panda did for martial arts. While DreamWorks animation used to specialize in pop references and bathroom humor, the studio manages to make a movie about Vikings – Vikings! – with scarcely a belch joke. DreamWorks will doubtless aim low again with May's release of Shrek Forever After, so enjoy the flight of the dragon while you can.