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The 'Dragon' whisperer slays some myths

Published March 30. 2010 05:00PM

The humorous, adventurous and eye-popping 3-D animated feature, "How to Train Your Dragon," slays the myth of the dragon-slayer.

An unusually-named young Viking, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), is an apprentice to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), the village smithy teaching Dragon Fighting 101.

The village is constantly attacked by dragons. Hiccup's dad, Viking leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), worries that the skinny lad won't be up to the task.

Hiccup doesn't help matters when, with gentle voice and touch, he befriends a dragon he nicknames Toothless, and Astrid (America Ferrera), his dragon-class rival, finds out.

Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders ("Lilo & Stitch"), co-directors-screenwriters (based on the children's books by Cressida Cowell) create wonderful scenes where words are superfluous. The rocky coastal landscape, rustic building interiors, Viking ships and Maxfield Parrish-esque skies have indelible detail.

The characters are similarly vividly-drawn. The dragons are more fanciful than scary. Toothless owes a bit to Cecil of TV's "Beanie & Cecil." A roomful of animators must have worked on Stoick's beard.

The visuals have elements of "The Wizard of Oz" (swarming dark dragons a la the flying monkeys), "Harry Potter" (Quidditch-like dragon arena) and "Aladdin" and "Avatar" (soaring Toothless with Hiccup and Astrid on board). A symphonic score adds to the quality of the production.

My main quibble is with the accents. Since when did Norwegians sound Scottish? Also, some scenes are too sepia-toned and, therefore, too dark for 3-D.

Other than that, "How to Train Your Dragon" is anything but a drag.

"How to Train Your Dragon": MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language; Genre: Animation, Family; Run Time: 1 hr., 38 min.; Distributed by DreamWorks Animation-Paramount Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The "How to Train Your Dragon" title song, "Sticks and Stones," is sung and written by Jonsi, aka Iceland's Jon Thor Birginsson.

"Greenberg": Ben Stiller is "Greenberg," the movie poster tells us. At 44, Stiller's cinema persona shares some touchstones with the title character. Stiller often portrays Peter Pan types whose adolescent psyches are trapped inside men's bodies: Boys who never want to grow up.

Roger Greenberg (Stiller) is an emotional drifter, following treatment for depression, facing his 41st birthday.

Los Angeles never looked smoggier when Greenberg arrives from New York City to the Beverly Hills flatlands to housesit while his brother and wife travel to Vietnam to oversee a hotel opening there. Greenberg begins a romance with Florence (Greta Gerwig), the household assistant.

Stiller nails the character of Greenberg with flinty-eyed perfection. Gerwig also creates a fully-realized character as Florence, whose personality is as light as a feather.

The problem is, as Gertrude Stein observed of L.A., "there's no there there" in the diffident screenplay by director Noah Baumbach ("Margot at the Wedding," "The Squid and the Whale") and wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who cameos.

The admonition, "Hurt people hurt people," sounding like Shrink 101, isn't enough.

Jokey use of pop songs ("It Never Rains in California," "Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey") pump up the volume as do the Woody Allen-esque rants.

The R-rated "Greeenberg" is a character sketch some will enjoy. Others may conclude they already know guys like Greenberg, so why spend two hours with him?

We've all had our "Greenberg" days. But a "Greenberg" life? You'll have to see "Greenberg" to see what that's like.

Box office, March 26: In the latest 3-D battle, "How to Train Your Dragon" slew "Alice in Wonderland," opening at No. 1 with a solid $43.3 million, ending Johnny Depp's three-week reign at $17.3 million and $293.1 million, four weeks. "Hot Tub Time Machine" opened with a so-so $13.7 million.

4. "The Bounty Hunter," $12.4 million, $38.8 million, two weeks; 5. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," $10 million, $35.7 million, two weeks; 6. "She's Out of My League," $3.5 million, $25.6 million, three weeks; 7. "Green Zone," $3.3 million, $30.4 million, three weeks; 8. "Shutter Island," $3.1 million, $120.6 million, six weeks; 9. "Repo Men," $3 million, $11.3 million, two weeks; 10. "Our Family Wedding," $2.2 million, $16.7 million, three weeks. 11. "Avatar," out of the Top 10 for the first time in 15 weeks, $2 million, $740.4 million, 15 weeks. 14. "Greenberg," expanding to only 181 screens, $1 million, $1.2 million, two weeks

Unreel: March 31, April 2:

Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes star in the remake of the Greek mythology-based "Clash of the Titans."

Miley Cyrus stars in "The Last Song," a drama based on an original screenplay by Nicholas Sparks ("Notebook," "Dear John").

Director Tyler Perry is back with the comedy, "Why Did I Get Married Too," starring Janet Jackson.

Brendan Fraser and Brooke Shields star in the comedy, "Furry Vengeance."

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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