'How to Train Your Dragon'
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson
Directors: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Rated: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

Parent Concerns: Young children sensitive to creatures and cartoon violence may be frightened by the dragon battle scenes, like the one that opens the movie. There are lots of weapon-wielding Vikings running around fighting various fire-breathing dragons that wreak havoc on the fictional island of Berk. The 3D intensifies the action, and in a couple of scenes my 5 1/2-year-old daughter had to close her eyes, because a humongous dragon looked like it was about to kill a beloved character. Speaking of which, a couple of characters are amputees from facing off with dragons. On the flip side, there's a wonderful heroine named Astrid, who is just as brave (if not more so) than her male peers, and a strong theme of peace, collaboration and honesty.
'How to Train Your Dragon'

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson
Directors: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Rated: PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

Parent Concerns: Young children sensitive to creatures and cartoon violence may be frightened by the dragon battle scenes, like the one that opens the movie. There are lots of weapon-wielding Vikings running around fighting various fire-breathing dragons that wreak havoc on the fictional island of Berk. The 3D intensifies the action, and in a couple of scenes my 5 1/2-year-old daughter had to close her eyes, because a humongous dragon looked like it was about to kill a beloved character. Speaking of which, a couple of characters are amputees from facing off with dragons. On the flip side, there's a wonderful heroine named Astrid, who is just as brave (if not more so) than her male peers, and a strong theme of peace, collaboration and honesty.

Watch the trailer:



The inhabitants of the Viking island of Berk are all named to scare off enemies, and they are all trained to hate and kill dragons, which are known to attack and destroy on a regular basis. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has the misfortune of being the clan chief Stoick's (Gerard Butler) wiry, unaggressive son. A blacksmith's apprentice, Hiccup builds a weapon to trap a dragon, but once he tracks down the elusive "Night Fury" dragon, he's unable to finish the job. Instead of slaying the dragon, he secretly befriends it, names it "Toothless" and even helps fashion a prosthetic tail for him. Meanwhile, Hiccup attends Dragon Training with his considerably more competitive peers, including the brainy beauty Astrid (America Ferrera). With his new found dragon knowledge, Hiccup surprises everyone by defeating the dragons in Dragon Training (without slaying them). But eventually everyone finds out about his secret, and no one is less pleased than his dad, who uses Hiccup's inside knowledge to plan a misguided attack on the dragons' lair.

Moviefone Mama Says:
This is one of those rare movies that makes excellent use of digital 3D, and it's worth the extra couple of bucks to see. The fight scenes are probably a tad too dark for the pre-K and kindergarten set (I learned this the hard way), but movie-savvy first-graders and up will love Hiccup's adventures with his pet dragon Toothless. Even though my daughter jumped up in a couple of scenes, she still came away understanding the important themes about "how the dragons weren't really bad" and "Toothless and Hiccup helped each other." Not bad for a preschooler.

Here are three tips to extend your movie-going experience beyond the multiplex.

Like Father, Like Son: Stoick seems genuinely disappointed in Hiccup for most of the movie. Hiccup spends a lot of time and energy trying to live up to his father's expectations -- usually with disastrous results. The father and son are nothing alike on the surface, but by the end of the movie, they've reconciled. Their slightly fractured relationship makes for a great reminder that our kids should know they don't have to be like us to be loved and appreciated.

Viking Girls Rule: America Ferrera's character Astrid is decidedly kick-ass. She's not just a blond bombshell; she can fight better than anyone her age, and she's so much more than the object of Hiccup's affection. She's also the only person who socks some sense into Hiccup and encourages him to tell everyone the truth about Toothless and what he's discovered about why the dragons keep ambushing Berk.

Read It & See It:
The movie is actually based on a series by children's author Cressida Cowell. I had never heard of it until my second-grade son came home from the school library with it, but he plowed through it and immediately read the sequel. There are some (as always) major differences between the book's plot and the movie, but it's still worth discussing how film adaptations change plot lines, add characters and sometimes even disappoint readers. It's a lesson worth learning early.


Three to See: More 3D Adventures
Kids: 'Up' is a perfect pick for the whole family. It has something to offer everyone, and will make even the most jaded parents teary eyed.

Tweens:
'Coraline' is fantastically dark and moody, but it's a bit intense for the youngest of moviegoers. Kids 8 and up will love the edgy feel.

Teens:
'Avatar' isn't just the highest-grossing movie of all time because people like blue creatures; it single-handedly set the bar for 3D films.

Also in Theaters:
'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'

'Alice in Wonderland'

On DVD:
'The Princess and the Frog'