How to Train Your Dragon 2Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/18/14 01:32:50
(Worth A Look)
The first "How to Train Your Dragon" caught audiences a bit by surprise; DreamWorks had been trying to recreate the success of "Shrek" so often that a movie that told its fantastical story without tongue in cheek seemed almost unheard of. The sequel is more complicated almost out of necessity, but it's still clever, good-looking, and full of adventure.It's been five years since Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) befriended dragon Toothless and eventually convinced the other Vikings on the isle of Berk that dragons could be friends rather than just monsters to be feared. Now, while Hiccup's friends have regular dragon races, and his father Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler) wants him to succeed him as chief, Hiccup and Toothless are exploring nearby islands and cataloging the various species of dragons in the North Sea. What they find is a ship full of dragon-hunters let by Eret (voice of Kit Harrington), trapping dragons on behalf of Drago Bloodfist (voice of Djimon Honsou), who is as charming as he sounds. There's another player, though, the mysterious dragonrider Valka (voice of Cate Blanchett), who has been rescuing wayward dragons.
World-building is an interesting thing - How to Train Your Dragon just needed a little bit - "here there be dragons", more or less - but sequels inevitably push that a little further. What kind of dragons are there? What can the characters already established as tinkerers do with what they learn from dragons, and if we posit that dragons exist outside of Berk...? Well, it can be very easy to get bogged down in that sort of minutia, and that's before considering the TV series that ran between the two films. For the most part, writer/director Dean DeBlois does a good job of not requiring any knowledge of that material, and just letting the pieces we see - mostly Hiccup's maps and flaming sword - be fairly self-explanatory as part of the jump forward (itself kind of unusual, since one of the benefits of animation to filmmakers is not needing to worry about actors getting visibly older in the time it takes to mount a sequel). There's enough explanation to give folks who haven't seen the first the set-up, but not a lot of getting-to-know-you time.
That gives the movie a fair amount of time to devote to adventure, even as DeBlois allows the heart of the story (Hiccup's, Stoick's, and Valka's family reunion) plenty of room to breathe. There are new types of dragons, including the majestic, ice-breathing Alpha, a story that merits a bit of attention in that there are a fair number of moving pieces even if the whole thing isn't that complicated, and a sense that, even if Hiccup does not take over his father's position, he's still facing growing responsibilities in a larger world as he matures.
It does make me wonder why Jay Baruchel didn't change his vocal performance for Hiccup a little more; the exaggeratedly nasal stammering that was perfect for an awkward teen doesn't quite fit with the handsome, confident (though somewhat naive in his idealism) man that he's become at first, especially as many of the other broadly drawn and voiced young characters from the original are sent further into the background, although it fits a bit more once the activity becomes more frantic. On the other hand, Gerard Butler does some excellent voice work to back up the animators on Stoick, hitting the right notes across a spectrum as what starts off as a fairly comical character goes through a lot. There's nice work from Cate Blanchett and Craig Ferguson as well, although Djimon Hounsou doesn't get much to do aside from being some amusingly out-of-the-box voice casting for a Viking movie (as is the returning, and fantastic, America Ferrera).
As likable as the voice cast is and as decent as the story their characters are plunged into, it's the eye-popping visual spectacle that turns out to be the movie's biggest asset. It's not terribly surprising; the first Dragon was the movie where DreamWorks Animation's plans to develop their movies for 3D really started to bear fruit, and this one picks up where it left off, with more flying scenes, busy but well-spaced sets, and a central battle scene that astounds as men, ships, and dragons of all shapes and sizes face off, including two gargantuan combatants. There's wonderful variety in the dragons themselves, powerful beasts that are cute enough to please the younger set (and balance the fact that this series is still not at all afraid of severed limbs).There's a pattern to DreamWorks's franchises - "Shrek", "Madagascar", "Kung Fu Panda", and now "How to Train Your Dragon" have all inspired second entries that are fairly entertaining but which by their nature can't quite recapture what nifty ideas their predecessors were. That's kind of natural, I suppose, and certainly nothing to be held against this movie - it's an good ride with a fun cast of characters, and it certainly supplies the more that the first might have left the audience wanting.
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