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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

| June 21, 2014 | 0 Comments

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a big movie – even epic.

Where most animated movies these days are mousy and small, this one has a giant canvas with a visual sweep that reminds you of The Lion King and Finding Nemo. It’s a fun movie to behold. The animation makes the sky into a living, breathing place without boundaries. The animators have taken the simple idea of flying through the air and made it into a roller coaster of visual delight. That’s a relief in the age of TV-style directing where filmmakers think that everything has to be shot in tight close-ups. The skies here are limitless, cloud strewn and dotted with dragons of all sizes and shapes.

The story picks up five years later as Hiccup (voiced again by Jay Baruchel) and his Viking community of Berk have embraced dragons and turned dragon flying into a sport. They’ve even taken to racing one another in a Quidditch-style sport involving live sheep. Hiccup is now is a little taller, his face a little longer – though reasonably, in five years he should have started a beard. He loves the sport of flying dragons, but it is clear that his mind is elsewhere. He wants to explore the world beyond Berk to see what’s out there. So, he and dragon pal Toothless head off to find unexplored territories. What they find isn’t exactly new ground, but a new problem. There are pirates out there whose intentions are deadly, and whose boss is even deadlier. Not to give too much away, but let’s just say these guys are building a fearsome dragon army, and not for racing.

The story is kind of beside the point. It’s your standard bad-guy-wants-to-use-his-army-to-rule-the-world plot, the narrative has an heir of predictability but that doesn’t mean isn’t full of surprises. The best moment comes early in the film when Hiccup is flying home at dusk on the back of Toothless above a landscape of clouds. Off to his right, a wraith-like figure emerges from the clouds wrapped in bandages. It’s a ghastly sight, wrapped in warrior garb with spines protruding from its head. Until we learn its identity, it is reasonable to think that it is a visitor from the land of the dead. What makes this moment so breathtaking is how unexpectedly it happens.

The identity of this being will not be revealed here except to say that it opens up some of Hiccup’s familial identity. It’s a subplot buried in a very PC story that preaches that the best way to train an animal is to gently understand it. The movie’s villain wouldn’t agree. His name is Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) and he is rumored to be a fearsome warrior with thousands of dragons at his disposal. There is a very effective build-up to Drago on par with Keyser Soze. He is spoken about long before we see him, hidden in shadows and legend. When we see him though he’s a bit of a disappointment. He looks like a caveman and seems made up mostly of scars, sweat, hair and anger management issues. His personality is all grumbles and threats. Does he have a life of his own?

There are some nice touches in the film involving the relationship between Hiccup and his village chief father Stoick (Gerard Butler) that leads to a development that is really unexpected. Yet, it might be nice to tie up Hiccup’s relationship with his girlfriend Astrid. She’s kind of in this movie for support – maybe in the second sequel we’ll get the romance.

What shortcomings this movie has story-wise is overcome by the visual inventiveness. The animators have pulled out all the stops to create dragons of every scope and size. Some dragons are as big a basketball while others are the size of a stadium. Drago has one beast at his disposal called The Alpha that could tussle with Godzilla.

Now the million dollar question – will kids enjoy it? The answer: most definitely yes. There’s enough visual delight here to engage their imagination and not insult their intelligent. It’s not as creative as The LEGO Movie but they definitely won’t be bored by it. This is the kind of movie that is a treat for the eyes as well as the heart.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Animated, Kids, Recent