How To Train Your Dragon 2 – 2014

Writer & Director Dean DeBlois
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
Screenplay based on How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

There was a real concern when How To Train Your Dragon was followed by a television series.  So much talent was present for the movie, with such a dazzling array of characters both human and dragon, that it seemed a shame to have all of that energy wasted on a weekly show.  My fears were abated about 2 minutes into the 2nd foray in the world of Hiccup (Baruchel) and Toothless.  The colors are crisp, the village is beautiful, the sheep have targets painted on them, and the dragons…oh the dragons.

One of the biggest draws to the original film is the incredible tapestry of color and personality with the dragons of Berk.  Most especially, Toothless.  He is a simple, black Night Fury, but he is so much more than that.  The short version is that he looks like my wife’s old cat, right down to the color of his eyes and the way he loves on his buddy.  Nowhere is this more in evidence than their first scene together, to the delightful Jonsi tune “Where No One Goes.”  The sequence shows the tightness of their bond, but ever so quietly shows that they have some more growing to do.  Do they ever.

Soon after this flight, Hiccup and his betrothed Astrid (Ferrera) stumble across a dragon trapper named Eret (Harrington) who has a master Drago (Hounsou) who is building a dragon army in what amounts to a contradictory way.  Before this, he comes across his mother Valka (Blanchett), who has worked on her own collection of dragons.

All of this adventure is brought on by Hiccup’s reaction to his father.  While at first his father Stoic the Vast (Butler) was his biggest doubter, now he is his biggest advocate.  Once more, though, his father is pushing ahead in a way that forces his son to find alternatives.  His dad wants Hiccup to prepare to be chieftain, and he’s afraid of confrontation with Drago, and his mind can’t be changed, of course.  Neither can Valka, Eret or Drago’s mind be changed from simple misunderstanding of the nature of dragon.

That leads Hiccup to search for alternatives, which pushes the plot forward to its obvious clash.  Despite this simple premise, DeBlois continues to aim higher with his characters than we have a right to expect with the usual animated fare.  Sure there has to be a lack of understanding for the characters to grow.  It would be a wast of vikings and dragons to not have some epic battles.  Somehow DeBlois manages to shoehorn wisdom through the cracks and crevices of the usual family friendly plot.

There are some neat turns with the characters, such as Stoic’s reaction to finding his wife and her explanation to why she’s been gone all of this time.  The turning of Eret is playful and works within the framework of the plot, giving someone who can turn a friendly card, rather than another ridiculous joker of an antagonist to be dispatched 2nd to last.  Drago is scary enough on his own to offer the proper menace for this story.  And that scream, oh goodness, so menacing.

As before, the writing, cinematography and animation is beyond compare.  The dragons are beautiful, menacing, playful and innocent all at once.  Most importantly, they are characters in their own right, without ever saying a word.  Hiccup is bigger, wiser and still his eyes are yearning.  The balance of his friends have less to do, but Hiccup’s experiences are not lost on either of his parents.  Sadly, the economy of characters dictate that only so many new characters can be introduced without taking a few away.

 …Dragon 2 is not as good as it’s predecessor, but it is a worthy companion piece and it provides and excellent bridge to a third film.   All of the principals will return, and with the momentum built, it could amount to something great.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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