‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’: Even better than the first
By BILL ZWECKER Columnist June 11, 2014 9:26PM
Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) needs to prepare to be a leader but prefers flying around with his fire-breathing pal in “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” | DREAMWORKS ANIMATION
‘HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2’ ★★★★
Hiccup Jay Baruchel
Valka Cate Blanchett
Stoick the Vast Gerard Butler
Astrid America Ferrera
Dreamworks Animation presents a film written and directed by Dean Deblois, based on the book series by Cressida Crowell. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG (for adventure action and some mild rude humor). Now showing at local theaters.
Updated: July 14, 2014 6:12AM
Expanding on a famous line about entertainment, a major Hollywood studio executive told me recently, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard. Comedy sequels hardly ever succeed — whether they’re animated [films] or not!”
That’s a sentiment with which many of us likely agree, given the many sequel stumbles we’ve witnessed over the years.
So, that’s what is so delightful about watching “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the superbly crafted sequel to the 2010 hit that swept us up into a world of dragons and Vikings, based on the original books by British children’s author Cressida Cowell. Not only does this second movie match the charm, wit, animation skill and intelligent storytelling of the original, I think it even exceeds it.
Major kudos, of course, have to go to the writer-director and “Dragon” creative driving force, Dean DeBlois. His cinematic artistry touches every frame of this motion picture that moves Hiccup, his dragon pal Toothless and the entire fantasy world of the Viking community of Berk into entirely new territory.
Hiccup, the gangly, sweet-hearted kid of the original film, is again voiced by Jay Baruchel, who does an excellent job of somewhat aging his character into his late teens but infusing Hiccup with a vocal wobble that captures the youth’s innate insecurities. Now that the Vikings and dragons have come to live in peace and harmony in Berk, Hiccup is facing a daunting challenge — the insistence by his father, Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) that Hiccup prepare himself to handle his destiny: succeeding his dad as the chief of their mountainous Viking village.
Hiccup is far from ready for assuming the mantle of leadership, as he still loves to fly around with Toothless, adding new additions to his ever-expanding map of the known Viking world.
While clearly lifted from the Quidditch of the Harry Potter films, the dragon-racing sequence near the beginning of “Dragon 2” is quite the delightful audience grabber, immediately pulling us into this new journey. It also helps showcase the voice talent of some high-profile actors, including Jonah Hill (as Snotout), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs).
The race is ultimately won by Hiccup’s tomboyish girlfriend Astrid, again voiced with great gusto by America Fererra, who is an important factor in driving the story into a world of young adult love that will understandably appeal to a somewhat older audience pool than was targeted in the first movie.
As in all good tales, we need a villain we love to hate — and that is ably provided by the deliciously resonant voice of Djimon Honsou as Drago Bludvist, the notorious dragon hunter who is having none of this let’s-make-friends-with-the-dragons world.
Drago’s goal of destroying all that Hiccup and the Berk citizens have achieved adds an important dramatic element to the movie, as does the mysterious appearance of a rebel dragon protector in the form of Valka. Voiced by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, this female warrior character also introduces a nice twist to the story, which I will not spoil by revealing here.
Among the things I like about “Dragon 2” is the way DeBlois and his team have delivered a number of important messages, packaged within this fast-paced animated adventure. The battles between good and evil forces are not simplistic, but shown to have all kinds of side consequences. Frightening moments are not sugar-coated, and we are shown that dangerous moments can — and do — bring tragic end results. Kids today are fully aware of life-and-death issues, and simply because they are showcased in an animated film doesn’t mean they need to be ignored.
Finally, I need to point out the visual achievement of this film. The use of 3D is not a gimmick here, but adds spectacularly to the entire moviegoing experience. This is a total joy from start to finish — without question, the best animated film I’ve seen so far this year.