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Vikings, Flying Dragons, Clever Teen Combine Forces in 'How To Train Your Dragon'

Toothless, a Night Fury Dragon – the rarest of all kind – soars through the sky with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) on his back in a scene from "How to Train Your Dragon"

"My name is Hiccup. It's a great name, I know, but, believe me, it's not the worst. [Viking] Parents believe a hideous name will frighten off gnomes and trolls …like our charming Viking demeanor wouldn't do that."

Meet Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, the most unlikely hero on the desolate, rocky island of Berk where his father, Stoick, is chieftain and chief hunter of the winged creatures that nightly ravage the hillsides of Berk: fire-breathing dragons. Scrawny Hiccup is not burly and muscular like the other teens, but he is determined to prove himself worthy by joining them in battle.

He uses ingenuity, tinkering with clever inventions to make up for what he lacks in brute strength; but when one of them actually works and wounds a dreaded dragon, he learns that the creatures are not the fearsome marauders of legend.

Flying on the back of his new friend (which he names "Toothless"), Hiccup sets out to teach his fellow villagers that Vikings and dragons can live together in harmony.

Jay Baruchel (HICCUP) in the recording studio at DreamWorks Animation
Jay Baruchel (HICCUP) in the recording studio at DreamWorks Animation

Jay Baruchel, whose film roles range from the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" to the outrageous comedy "Tropic Thunder," heads the voice cast as Hiccup.

"The point of the movie to me is that all of the things you are taught when you are young that are your failings or inadequacies are ultimately what sets you apart and makes you kind of special," he said. "That's what Hiccup is. By the end of it he is the one that changes everything for them. It's about finding your place and time, I think."

"How To Train Your Dragon" is adapted from the first book in the Hiccup series by English author Cressida Cowell. Scottish-born Craig Ferguson, who does the voice of Hiccup's teacher 'Gobber,' knows them well.

"I know the book because I have a son who is eight-and-a-half years old; so I was familiar with the books because he reads them," he said. "I read them to him and now he reads them on his own. Also, Cressida talks about Scotland a little bit and I've been there."

"Hiccup as a character in the book is not your conventional hero," Cowell said. "He is a bit different. I think they've taken that one step further and it is magnificent."

LEFT to RIGHT: Astrid (America Ferrera) and Tuffnut (TJ Miller) in scene from “How to Train Your Dragon”
LEFT to RIGHT: Astrid (America Ferrera) and Tuffnut (TJ Miller) in scene from “How to Train Your Dragon”

Novelist Cowell agrees with most of the changes the filmmakers made to her story, especially the choice to introduce young Hiccup's ally (and love interest) - a Viking teenager named Astrid - much earlier than she shows up in the books.

"I do feel a little embarrassed about the fact that I didn't put a female character in the first book," said Cowell. "I didn't even notice until my daughter pointed it out and then I felt really embarrassed because I have loads of girl readers as well. So I then wrote a female character for the third book who is called Kamikaze, but that is obviously very politically incorrect as a name [so] they called her Astrid."

America Ferrera (Astrid) in the recording studio at DreamWorks Animation
America Ferrera (Astrid) in the recording studio at DreamWorks Animation

Dark-haired Latina, America Fererra, star of the hit TV series "Ugly Betty, does the voice of blonde, blue-eyed Astrid.

"It was really fun for me to sit there and think that I got to be a part of creating this character who is a character on her own,' she said. "She really isn't me or a version of me. She is her own thing.

Gerard Butler, who voices Hiccup's father Stoick, says the animators blended some of his acting style into the character.

"Sometimes it was the exact same performance of me spreading my arms and looking up," he said."You know, when I'm saying "Odin, it was rough …" and then looking back down, it was an exact match. There are parts of me, when I'm watching myself as an actor, that I would call complete over-acting that I see even in the movie; but it I have to say it works better in the cartoon than in real life …but I seem to have gotten away with a lot of over-acting in this."

"How To Train Your Dragon" is directed and co-written by veteran animators Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois. Other voices in the English-language version include comic actors Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig.