PG, 2 stars
Does the title of this German-British animated film remind you of a certain earlier movie, made by Dreamworks? The filmmakers acknowledge that comparisons will be made early on with a scene at the premiere of a film titled How to Tame Your Dragon.
However, it's more than a cheeky - or sheepish - reference to How to Train Your Dragon. Homeless boy Ben (voiced by Freddie Highmore) steals some jewellery and, making his escape, disguises himself in a promotional dragon rider costume from said premiere.
As luck would have it, he encounters a real silver dragon, Firedrake (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who, along with his brownie friend Sorrell (Felicity Jones) is on a quest to find the dragons' secret paradise, the Rim of Heaven. Firedrake mistakes Ben for a real dragon rider who can help and the boy, needing to escape, goes along with this.
There's a prologue that explains the reason for Firedrake's mission - centuries ago, dragons and humans used to live in harmony, then humans got greedy and encroached on more and more land, and you can probably tell where this is going. There's also a dragon-eating villain (Patrick Stewart).
The film was "inspired" by a 1997 book by German author Cornelia Funke but seems to have taken a few tips from Disney and Pixar in terms of its characters and ideas. But the film lacks the resonance of the best animated movies: screenwriter John R. Smith (Gnomeo and Juliet) and director Tomer Eshed are a bit too restrained, so the emotional moments don't register as strongly as they should.
Smith is also a bit slipshod in his storytelling - to give one example, one character claims to not know anything about the outside world for hundreds of years, but looks up a dating site, on the internet, in an isolated cave. Hmm. There's sometimes a feeling that things are being made up as the story goes along, and with sequences featuring Australian and Indian characters as well as the expected British and American voices, it feels a little too obviously calculated for international appeal.
Not that the film is terrible: it's well made and looks gorgeous, with varied and lovely settings, and there's enough fun and engagement here to make for a decent summer family outing. But it's nowhere near as good as How to Train Your Dragon.