Almost 10 years since Shrek emitted his first pungent burp, DreamWorks Animation soars to dizzying heights with a brilliantly executed and deeply touching story of one boy’s friendship with a supposedly fearsome dragon.

Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda both lacked spark but How To Train Your Dragon has invention and emotion in abundance, and will delight audiences of all ages with its lush visuals and smart script based on the book by Cressida Cowell.

Screening in 3D in selected cinemas and traditional 2D everywhere else, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’s fantasy combines a traditional rites of passage drama with breathtaking action and uproarious comedy.

The eye-popping format works especially well during the vertiginous flying sequences –you feel like you can almost reach out and touch the clouds as human and beast soar through the air in perfect harmony.

The unlikely hero is a weedy Viking called Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who has been told his whole life that dragons are evil beasts that would eat a man as soon as look at him.

Consequently, Hiccup and the other children in the village grow up with a hatred of the creatures and dream of training for battle alongside their warrior fathers.

Alas, Hiccup is too feeble and his father, tribe leader Stoick (Gerard Butler), protects the youngster from harm by entrusting him to the care of burly blacksmith, Gobber (Craig Ferguson).

“One day I’ll get out there, because around here, killing a dragon is everything,” bemoans Hiccup.

Gobber convinces Stoick that dragon training might give the boy some backbone.

So Hiccup joins feisty Astrid (America Ferrara), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and the twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (TJ Miller) in the ring, where they learn to cope with all manner of fire- breathing creatures.

Unbeknown to the other recruits, Hiccup has befriended an injured dragon – a mysterious Night Fury – and has nursed the creature back to health and even nicknamed him Toothless.

As the bond between animal and boy deepens, Hiccup questions everything he has ever been told.

How To Train Your Dragon is a wonderful adventure for the entire family, underpinned by the bond between Hiccup and Toothless that develops organically as the two characters become accustomed to each other.

The freedom that the boy feels in the sky contrasts with his suffocation on terra firma.

Vocal performances are strong.

Baruchel milks every ounce of sympathy for young Hiccup as he tries to make everyone happy and become the Viking that Stoick wants him to be.

When Stoick inevitably discovers his son’s betrayal and angrily disowns him – “You’re not a Viking, you’re not my son!” – there’s a genuine lump in our throats, which we soon swallow when the script delivers yet another belly laugh before setting up the rousing finale.