June 22, 2014

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

This year, aside from The LEGO Movie (of course), has been a little lackluster when it comes to animation. For that matter, 2013 was not exactly a high point for feature animated films either, and no, I don't care how much money Frozen made, it was really not that great. So, it is with great happiness that I am able to report that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a winner and the second best animated feature of 2014 (so far, we still have The Boxtrolls to hope for). This sequel surpasses its original and delivers action, heart, and some fantastic fantasy visuals which are truly are gorgeous.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (still an unwieldy title) was written and directed by Dean DeBlois (based on the book series by Cressida Cowell), this time, however, without longtime creative partner Chris Sanders (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast). The two first teamed for Disney's Lilo and Stitch, but seem to have parted ways, with Sanders taking on The Croods while DeBlois continues with the dragon training. DeBlois has really outdone himself with this sequel, and the best part is that he has envisioned it as a trilogy, meaning we have one more movie coming! Hopefully it will not take as long for that one to come.

We catch up with our hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, This is the End), five years after the events of the first film. The dragons and the Vikings of Berk have become fast friends. They all live together in harmony, having races and playing games. It all seems rather great. Still, Hiccup is not satisfied. Having a Viking chief father and never knowing his mother has left him searching for an identity, feeling like he does not know where he came from and therefore not knowing where he is headed.

While the village engages in dragon races, Hiccup and his Night Fury dragon, Toothless, are out exploring, discovering new islands, new dragons, and whatever else comes their way. This is where things begin to take shape, plotwise. They come across an outpost destroyed by ice with a few dragon hunters there. Hiccup learns of a bad guy named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who is amassing a dragon army and is headed towards Berk. Upon hearing the news, Hiccup's father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), begins preparing everyone for war. The more idealistic Hiccup heads out to find Drago and hopefully reason with him.

Along the way, Hiccup gets sidetracked and meets Valka (Cate Blanchett), a woman who has taken up with dragons and has become their defender, liberating them from trappers and protecting them. It also happens that Valka is Hiccup's long thought dead mother. This leads to even more issues for young Hiccup, who is reaching a crossroads in his life.

This movie is about changes and discovering who you are, spurred on by the discovery of new familial relations, and forced to action by an oncoming force resulting in even more self discovery. The movie is pushed forward by character growth and development. Hiccup's discovering of his destiny, Valka'ss questioning of her decision to stay away from her son for twenty years, a trapper's discovery that he may have been misled, all this and more.

The plot involving the attack on Berk is a big one, but it is not really what it is about. This is really about Hiccup coming of age, realizing who he is and being forced to move on it. This movie is about heart, relationships, and character, and secondarily about defending a village and defeating the bad guy. It is executed beautifully. It fully engages its audience on an emotional level and just really hangs onto the heartstrings.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an utterly delightful movie. The characters are well defined and are the driving force of the movie. The heart it possesses is wonderful, it grasps and never lets go, and what is great is that while it is an animated movie with a family target, that does not mean it is going to pander. We learned that in the first movie when Hiccup lost his leg. We are taught that lesson again in this movie in one of its most poignant moments. On top of that, the animation is gorgeous, the action set pieces are stunning to look at.

The bottom line is How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great movie for everyone. It is fun, funny, action packed, and heartfelt. It has a humanity about it that will hold your attention. It is a sequel that surpasses its predecessor.

Highly Recommended.

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