Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Rating

Director
Dean DeBlois
Screenplay
Dean DeBlois (book series by Cressida Cowell)
Length
102 min.
Starring
Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
MPAA Rating
PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

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Review
After four years, DreamWorks has finally produced a sequel to the studio’s broadly appealing achievement, How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup has grown up, as has his audience, but has DreamWorks?

For twelve years, DreamWorks Animation had a serious kid fixation. Animated films were supposed to entertain the young and divert the adults long enough to make it through. While Pixar had already begun to master the art of balance, it took DreamWorks superb How to Train Your Dragon to move the company beyond their youthful roots and delve into stories that were a little bit darker, a little bit more adult and a hell of a lot more engaging for those who weren’t looking to go back to school and chatter about the film to friends in the lunch room.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 returns to the roots planted by its predecessor. Five years have passed since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) proved that dragons and humans could co-exist peacefully. His home village of Berk has embraced the idea and now everyone has a dragon, some as workhorses, some as pets, but all as friends. On the cusp of becoming a man and inheriting the reign of his father one day, Hiccup is being groomed for succession, but prefers the freedom of flying on the wind and exploring new and vast lands.

As the film’s glorious aeronautic acrobatics return fans of the original film to the gorgeously realized world of Berk and its environs, we discover that an old foe of Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is corralling an army of dragons to fight by his side to overtake all lands that border the ocean. Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) has a secret weapon that threatens to put an end to all peaceful dragonkind while securing his future safety, no matter who he murders to get there.

Separating from his directing partner Chris Sanders from the first film, Dean DeBlois shows us that he’s more than capable of handling the task on his own. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a sumptuous feast of animation, heavily stylized, but compelling. With a stable of talented artists at your direction, it’s difficult not to succeed, but DeBlois has been around long enough to know that you can’t rest on precedent to carry your film through. It’s one of the reasons most animated sequels don’t work, Cars 2 being the penultimate example.

Moving naturally from his emotion-laden first film, DeBlois creates a broader world than previously envisioned, one that encompasses a trove of new locales and enemies as well as some inventive and fascinating new dragon types. Announcing Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) in the film’s trailer may have been a tad premature, robbing the film of a brilliant reveal. Even so, the film is filled with a number of other surprises, including a finale that conjures fond memories of the mesmerizing conclusion to Toy Story 3.

The voice cast is on top of its game, which enlivens these rich, flawed characters. Their quirks play into the plot in imaginative ways and set up a number of interesting and sometimes awkward scenes. Baruchel’s voice hasn’t changed much since the original and he doesn’t do much to make the character sound as old as he looks, but familiarity is important for such a character.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 may be the perfect movie to watch on Father’s Day. The father-son dynamic displayed in the first film is enhanced and deepened in this sequel. The medium has seen many paternal pairings that have felt distant and modestly distracted. Finding Nemo largely explores the love of a father for his son and lightly touches on the love of a son for his father. Dragon gets at the heart of the complex relationship between masculine family members while not entirely disabusing itself of the role of motherhood.

Perhaps the film’s depiction is a little over-idealized and in reality father-son connections aren’t as much in need of such broad exploration. However, with animated films of the past focusing primarily on female audiences and only minimally on the male (such as The Lion King or Cars), every attempt to delve into the masculine waters without feeling like a testosterone-obnoxious buddy flick helps express the notion that men can be emotionally invested without having to check their masculinity at the door.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Animated Feature
Review Written
July 22, 2014

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