The village of Berk, inhabited by "Vikings" who speak with weirdly Scottish accents, is plagued by dragons. They swoop in and kill people, burn buildings, and make off with livestock. The Vikings, in turn, have developed their whole culture around killing them. Young Hiccup (Baruchel), son of the village leader Stoick (Butler), desperately wants to kill dragons, but he's weak, clumsy, and not terribly Viking-like. What he is good at is engineering, something that neither his father nor his mentor Gobber (Ferguson) seem to value.
On the night of a raid, Hiccup uses a device to down a Night Fury, a breed of dragon so mysterious it has never been seen. The Night Fury turns out to be small, lithe, somewhat cat-like, and terrified. Hiccup is unable to kill it, but spends his free time with it learning about dragons and helping build it a prosthetic tail-wing so it can fly again. He uses the knowledge he gains to rise to the top of his dragon-killing class (no dragons are actually killed, captives are simply used for practice). His father returns from a disastrous attempt to find the dragon's nest to find his son a celebrity, but Hiccup has learned that the dragons don't really want to hurt anyone. They're controlled by a massive "queen bee" dragon, which forces them to bring it food.
The Night Fury, which Hiccup names Toothless, comes to Hiccup's aid in full view of the village and his father captures the dragon and forces it to lead the Vikings to the nest. Hiccup and his friends, including the previous head-of-the-class (and his crush), Astrid (Ferrera), mount dragons and swoop in to help, Hiccup eventually winning the day at the cost of his own foot. The village embraces dragons as pets. Yay!
I like this movie a lot. Hiccup undergoes a good transformation; he starts of wanting not necessarily to kill dragons but to be useful, and in Berk, killing dragons is how you prove your worth. But he comes to identify with Toothless and realizes almost immediately that he isn't a killer, and puts his scientific mind to use. Butler is likewise good as Stoick, who so desperately wants to connect with his son but doesn't have the common ground to do it, and the support cast of young dragon-fighters (later riders), including Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and T.J. Miller, provide fun bits of characterization and humor.
If I have a complaint, it's that Hiccup has this whiny, sarcastic American accent. But then, so do all the younger Vikings, so maybe these Vikings become Scottish as they mature, I don't know.
My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high
Next up: Hudson Hawk
Next up: Hudson Hawk