By Kit Bowen

Training dragons never looked more fun. As the first animated gem of 2010, How to Train Your Dragon should see a clear path to an Oscar nomination.

As a sort of cross between the classic boy and his dog story and Dragonheart, HTYD does delight in so many ways. Told from the perspective of a young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), we see how his remote seaside village is continually bombarded by various kinds of dragons. The village leader and Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), rallies his fellow Vikings to hunt and kill as many of the beasts as they can, but the scrawny Hiccup doesn’t quite cut the mustard, much to his father’s chagrin.

Instead, Hiccup decides to use his ingenuity and invents a contraption that will bring down the most feared – and most rare – dragon of all, the Night Fury. When it actually works, Hiccup follows its trail and discovers that the beast is just as frightened and vulnerable as he is – and extremely intelligent. And so they form a bond. Hiccup helps the dragon he names Toothless heal, while Toothless teaches Hiccup about a dragon’s true, definitely more kindhearted and loyal nature. Needless to say, there’s no way in hell Hiccup could ever kill one now, even though he’s in training to do so. And it’s going to take all of the young Viking’s courage to convince his dad dragons really aren’t the enemy at all.

The vocal talent do a fine job bringing their animated characters to life. You can just see Baruchel’s (She’s Out of My League) neurotic mannerisms in Hiccup, and Butler’s bravado in Stoick. Also good are America Ferrara as the tough Viking-in-training Astrid and Hiccup’s object of desire; Superbad buddies Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jonah Hill as fellow Viking trainees; and Craig Ferguson as the gruff trainer Gobber.

Dreamworks Animation knows a thing or two about story without having to talk down to the kids or put in too many pop-culture references that can be annoying. But HTYD might be their best effort yet, since it combines the elements of a touching story with some heart-stopping visuals. Sure, every other movie made these days is in 3D, and while for some, nothing really is gained by the technology (Clash of Titans, for example), others benefit greatly. HTYD fits in that latter category. The 3D animation absolutely dazzles – and gives the film a thrilling edge. The aerial sequences, flying on the back of a dragon, are as good – or better – than any live action shots, while the final climactic battle makes you grab your the arms of your theater seat. HTYD is simply an entertaining adventure from start to finish.