'How to Train Your Dragon' (Paramount / Dreamworks)

Many movies aimed at children are abject failures. They pander to kids, pretending they're smarter than their parents, and insult adults, reducing them to simpering caricatures. Soaring and swooping, both visually and emotionally, How to Train Your Dragon avoids those traps, instead playing out as a grand, invigorating, all-ages adventure.

Adapted from a book by Carolyn Cressida Cowell *, the film takes significant liberties with its source material, but starts at the same place. Vikings landed on the North Atlantic island of Berk and made it their own. The older generation speaks with a thick Scottish brogue -- historically accurate, if delightfully disconcerting -- and preaches the old Viking ways. Young Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel at his most diffident) wants nothing more than to be a good Viking, just like his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, born to play a character with that name). Hiccup's resolve is tested by his adolescent clumsiness and a sneaking suspicion that he may never be half the man that he imagines his father to be.

Dragons besiege the island. Thus an annual coming-of-age ceremony involves a young lad or lady demonstrating their qualifications as a Viking by killing a fierce flying creature in battle. Hiccup is all too eager to begin training as a dragon-killer, hoping to prove his manliness, but his father is reluctant to put his soft, gentle son on the battle lines when he seems too gentle and awkward to survive.