Wednesday 10 December 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

The first How to Train Your Dragon was a welcome surprise, in the fact that it was a kid’s animated movie that was actually rather great. It had excellent voice acting, exceptional action and a good message behind it. The question is, with all of the sequels we get nowadays, is it any good?

Directed by Dean DeBlois and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes How to Train Your Dragon 2. After the events of the first film, dragons and Vikings now live side-by-side on the Isle of Berk. The story follows an older Hiccup (now with stubble) as he faces the daunting task of taking over from his father as chieftain of the Vikings. The conflict in this film comes from a group of dragon-trappers headed by a crazy warrior named Drago Bludvist who is amassing a giant dragon army. The plot is simple but it really doesn’t matter. It allows plenty of room for action and some real heartfelt moments, but more on that in a minute.

The voice acting is still stellar, with Jay Baruchel bringing that witty, kind-hearted feel to Hiccup that made him such a likeable protagonist in the first film. The supporting cast is brilliant. Gerard Butler is still my favourite as Hiccup’s father and Viking leader Stoick the Vast. Cate Blanchett makes a very memorable appearance as Hiccup’s long-lost mother, mixing vulnerable and caring with a side of awesome and kick-ass. Drago is voiced by the underrated Djimon Hounsou and is assisted by an almost unrecognisable Kit Harrington as Eret, not a whiff of Jon Snow in his performance at all. The supporting cast of Hiccup’s friends is made up of recognisable funny people like Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who could have been annoying but manage to avoid it and even have their own funny sub-plot.

There are a lot of emotional moments in How to Train Your Dragon 2. There are funny scenes, heart-breaking scenes and some intense moments. There’s even a great death scene, but saying anymore would give too much away. There is an especially touching scene between Stoick and Hiccup’s mother Valka, his wife, when they meet for the first time in twenty years. This scene really tugs at your heartstrings and shows the emotional depth an animated movie can reach when it really tries hard. Frozen this is not. The rel  ationship between Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrara) is surprising as it doesn’t seem like your usual kid’s movie relationship. Hiccup and Astrid are dating, that’s it. This sequel doesn’t force them apart and then get them back together like so many others, it doesn’t complicate their relationship but it also doesn’t put it at the forefront. They have a nice, touching, realistic relationship, that’s it. It was such a welcome change to see it. For a kid’s movie this film has a lot of emotional moments. I hate to say ‘for a kid’s movie’ but on the surface that is what it is. But underneath How to Train Your Dragon 2 is so much more than that. It’s a blockbuster action film with great drama that just happens to be a family film. Parents and adults watching this will not be bored.

I should mention that this film looks beautiful. It is really one of the best looking animated movies I’ve seen. The CG is great and the characters can emote more than I’ve seen in any other animated film. It also just looks stunning, cinematographer Roger Deakins of Skyfall fame was a consultant on this and it shows. The world is so gorgeous and varied, Valka’s dragon sanctuary being a highlight. The first film had some amazing action scenes, especially the big set piece at the end. This sequel doesn’t disappoint. The action scenes are immense, huge dragons fight amidst hundreds of other dragons and it is a treat to behold. The dragons all have their own personality and Toothless remains as adorable as ever. Some of the dragons often border a little too much on goofy but for the most part they’re great, and all of them are at least designed interestingly.  

The first How to Train Your Dragon was a hit with kids and adults alike for a reason, it was smart, funny and emotional. This sequel follows suit. It’s a worthy successor to one of the best animated films of recent years, perhaps even surpassing the original. My only complaint is that I wish they would have gone further with it, broken more new ground. As it is How to Train Your Dragon 2 plays it safe, but it knows what works and the movie is still great. As far as animated films go it’s not quite as innovative and original as The Lego Movie¸ but it is has a lot more depth and drama to it than the latest million dollar Disney cash cow.  

How to Train Your Dragon 2 just scrapes a deserving 5/5.


Jack Bumby

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