Finally… a 3D movie that deserves to be a 3D movie.

With all the hype about 3D movies over the past year or so (including the news that James Cameron is going to 3D-ify Titanic, and George Lucas is going to 3D-ify the Star Wars saga), there’s been more than a handful of movies that were released in 3D for no apparent reason. (Up, I’m looking at you. And you too, Alice in Wonderland.)

How to Train Your Dragon, though, is 3D for all the right reasons, and then some. It’s not too heavy on plot or substance– it’s just an extremely enjoyable thrill ride of a movie that is well worth the extra cash you gotta cough up for those glasses.

Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who are the brains behind Lilo & Stitch (which explains why the lead dragon in Dragon looks like an overgrown, jet black version of Stitch), it’s as good an animated movie to come out in the past year, and it serves as official notice to Pixar that they need to watch their back. There’s another game in town.

(Yes, I know it’s Dreamworks, which has already given us Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda, but Dragon takes them to the next level. Instead of just saying, ‘Hey. Fun movie.’ you’ll actually experience a little jaw-dropping with this one.)

Hiccup (voiced by She’s Out of My League’s Jay Baruchel) is a wee, small Viking who wants nothing more than to shed his wimpiness and slay an actual dragon, primarily to help secure a girlfriend. His father Stoick (Gerard Butler), though, is more than a little ashamed of his puny little son, and he’s content to keep Hiccup pushed firmly into the corner where he can only do minimal damage and not sully the family name… any more than he already has.

Hiccup, though, has other plans, and he actually gets a shot off during the opening battle sequence, snaring a Night Fury (or, giant Stitch), the fiercest and most elusive of all dragons. Hiccup tracks it down, and realizes (of course) that he can’t kill the creature, so, over the course of a few weeks, he puts his ‘dragon whisperer’ skills to good use. Unbeknownst to anyone, he befriends the dragon, names him Toothless, and tames him to the point where Hiccup can throw a saddle on him and soar through the skies above the village.

It’s at this point that the real benefit of the 3D clicks in. While the first half of the movie has ample eye candy that works particularly well in 3D, it’s the flight sequences that make it all worthwhile. It easily evokes images of Avatar, and I was, frankly, stunned by the animation. It’s enough to almost lift you out of your seat and make you wish you had a lapbelt.

How to Train Your Dragon is an extremely fun thrill ride with more than a little heart, a good helping of comedy, and more than enough action and drama. Parents, you won’t just tolerate it, you’ll really enjoy it.

Note: I would tend to skew a little older on the ‘appropriate age’ for Dragon. It’s about dragons, after all, and dragons are scarier than, say, pretty much any other creature– what with the sharp teeth and fire-breathing. There’s plenty of pretty fierce fighting, including a rather lengthy all-out war sequence at the end. Also, there’s more than a handful of ‘tense’ moments (gotchas and the like), so my initial thought would be that eight years old and up would be fine. Just as a frame of reference, I’d put it (intensity-wise) somewhere between The Incredibles and Attack of the Clones.

4.5/5 stars