Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 / *** (PG)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Hiccup: Jay Baruchel
Valka: Cate Blanchett
Stoick: Gerard Butler
Gobber: Craig Ferguson
Astrid: America Ferrera
Snotlout: Jonah Hill
Fishlegs: Christopher Mintz-Plaase
Tuffnut: T.J. Miller
Ruffnut: Kristen Wiig
Drago: Djimon Hounsou
Eret: Kit Harrington

DreamWorks Animation presents a film written and directed by Dean DeBlois. Based on the book series “How To Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell. Running time: 102 min. Rated PG (for adventure action and some mild rude humor).

I have a cineaste friend who hated, hated, hated “How To Train Your Dragon”. Just the thought of hating that rather harmless movie seems odd to me. I mean it wouldn’t surprise me for someone to dislike it.  But, to “hate” it. Well, that’s a level of displeasure reserved for Ed Wood movies, or Transformers. I think it more likely that he hated the fact that it had such universal success.

I found the original “How To Train Your Dragon” to be rather inoffensive. It wasn’t some magical piece of classic animated cinema or anything, but it was pleasurable in a rather innocent way. It didn’t break any new ground in terms of family entertainment. It certainly didn’t strive to be anymore than a family entertainment aimed primarily at children. But, I really can’t cite a whole lot with which to find fault. That’s pretty much how I feel about its successor, the aptly named “How To Train Your Dragon 2”.

In fact, I might say the second time around takes the characters into slightly deeper grounds, involving familial misunderstanding, not holding grudges, remaining loyal and advocating diplomatic resolution above war. Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t get very deep with any of these thematic elements, but the needle twitches a little.

For take two we find Hiccup has grown into full adolescence, going so far as to abuse his hero status in his home kingdom of Berk into disappearing during important contests and events to map out the far reaches of the Viking world. Meanwhile his girlfriend, Astrid, is becoming the city’s champion and his father, Stoick, wants to pass the crown on to his ever-absent son. Hiccup still has his trusted dragon Toothless, a rare Night Fury that strikes fear in all those who know of the species despite his rather innocent looks, friendly nature and diminutive stature for a dragon.

While out on a mapping mission, Hiccup and Toothless discover dragon thieves working for the mysterious Drago, who plans to steal all the dragons to form his own dragon army to conquer the world. Hiccup believes he can convince Drago that his plan is unnecessary, but before he can do that he discovers another dragon rider living in a hidden fortress populated by thousands of dragons and one alpha dragon who can control them all. Wouldn’t you know it; Drago also has an alpha of his own.

While the diplomacy message is certainly there, this is most definitely lightweight material. Still it’s well made and looks great on the screen. I would’ve liked to see more new dragons introduced and gotten to know more about them as sentient beings, especially considering the development of the alphas and their ability to control other dragons.

It was wise of the filmmakers to limit the amount on new human characters, however. This mysterious dragon rider—whose connection to Hiccup I will allow you to discover for yourself—Drago, and one of the dragon thieves are pretty much it in terms of new cast members. This allows the filmmakers a little more time to explore just a little bit about how the old characters have grown and changed. There are some funny gags involving the other girl member of Hiccup’s team, Ruffnut, and how Snotlout and Fishlegs desire to woo her. But, that dragon thief is awfully hunky compared to those old childhood friends.

“How To Train Your Dragon 2” does little to reverse the course of the dumbing down trend in family films today. It is cute, however, and makes for a good escape that won’t annoy parents bringing their kids to see it. Its visuals are stunning and surpass the original film’s. It just might tide you over until Pixar starts showing the others how it’s done again.

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