Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
It’s refreshing when an animation studio knows it has something special besides an easy way to package Happy Meal toys and video games. Sure, all that’s probably going to come along with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” but when a kid’s film can actually prove it has a reason, in addition to raking in boatloads of cash, to peddle things like action figures and lunchboxes, it’s for the better.
Merchandising aside, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the follow-up to the 2010 animated Oscar nominee, has a reason and it’s a good one. Besides being just as funny, creative and exhilarating as its predecessor, the sequel also takes on some darker and more adult themes that steer this franchise in a meaningful way. Yes, there are still plenty of dragons as cute as a bowlful of puppies, but as the lead character in the series begins to mature into the man everyone knew he could become (despite his voice still cracking like a high school freshman), the narrative kicks the emotion and adventure to another level.
Based on the books by author Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has less “training” to do and more beloved characters to establish and expand. Vikings and dragons have learned to live in harmony, but their happy days are numbered when all the dragons of the land are seriously threatened.
In the film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking who befriends a rare dragon he names Toothless in the original movie, is still living in his village with his scaly companion, various Viking friends, girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and father Stoick (Gerard Butler), the latter of whom wants to start prepping Hiccup to take over for him as chief. The future of his village’s dragons, however, is in danger of being stolen by the villainous Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army. Along the way, Hiccup is reunited with someone from his past, all while attempting to talk some sense into Drago before he starts plucking more and more dragons from the sky.
Beautifully rendered dragon characters and flight sequences make up the most exciting parts of this second trip with Hiccup and Toothless. As in the first, DreamWorks Animation really takes advantage of the 3-D imagery, something most animated films use to suck a couple more dollars out of patrons’ pockets. Here, the 3-D works miracles, especially when the dragons are the high-flying attraction. Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the first film with Chris Sanders but is going solo on this one, captures the wonderment of these fictional winged creatures and does so without surrendering any of its personality. Everyone knows sequels, especially animated ones, are basically made if the first one hit box-office gold. It’s nice to see another example of one that challenges itself to build on its clever storyline and actually come out with its head above the clouds.