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Thursday, June 12, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Let me begin with this. I love Dragons. Always have and always will. I collect them, in print and 3-D form, and even "wear" one everyday. I was really looking forward to this film. The original How to Train your Dragon animated feature was released back in 2010. The film received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature and was a visual stunner as well as a big hit. The new sequel is also an animated action/adventure fantasy story which again takes place in the 18th century era village of Berk, where Vikings live with a cadre of dragons (some as pets) in peace, and play a game not unlike Quidditch but with sheep and dragons instead of brooms and snitches. The hearty Norse folk no longer fear the dragons and several of the youth have become accomplished dragon riders.

Part Two of the planned trilogy is beautifully animated and loosely based on the published series of the same name, authored by Cressida Cowell. Five years has passed since Hiccup, smallish son of the group's leader Stoick, and Toothless, the Night Fury, helped the dragons and the Vikings come together toward a peaceful coexistence. In this film, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III prepares to come of age.

Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler are the voices of Hiccup and his larger than life dad, Stoick the Vast. America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, TJ Miller, and Christoper Mintz-Plasse add their vocal talents to Hiccup's peer group of youthful riders. Hiccup, the most accomplished dragon rider when paired with partner Toothless, is reaching the age where he may soon be Chief of Berk and he agonizes whether he wishes to claim his birthright or rather if he can truly handle the job. He and his father differ in philosophy with the elder preferring combat and victory and the younger choosing diplomacy and just talking it out. It is clear from the beginning that a flirtatious romance has bloomed over the years between he and Nordic, blonde tomboy, Astrid.

Hiccup and Toothless explore the vast land and sea areas together, mapping them out, and discover an ice cave which is hiding a couple of secrets. Another mysterious and seemingly more skilled Dragon Rider (with a family connection- voiced by Cate Blanchett) appears along with an oasis within the cave filled with hundreds of hidden dragons. It is also discovered, earlier, through an encounter with a band of dragon hunters, that an even fiercer dragon hunter, Drago (could it have been anything else?) with a very bad reputation (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) is building a dragon army to take over the world (like so many villains before him) and wants the dragons from the ice cave sanctuary as well as those in Berk.

Hiccup decides it is his time to shine and do what every good leader needs to do; save his people and maintain peace and tranquillity. Hiccup is brave and focused and with a little help from his friends, becomes a formidable adversary. I do have a few annoyances within the film: Not sure why they think that Vikings sound like Scotsmen or that the accompanying music should sound Celtic but they do. I would love for them to throw in a couple classic Gothic dragons as well (or were those only in England), as opposed to making each one a more spectacular avant-garde artist piece than the next. Some don't even resemble a dragon. I supposed we shouldn't mess with Toothless but he really does seem like a giant black flying salamander. I also wish filmmakers for children would, for once, leave the parents intact and around for the duration. Also be prepared to witness Avatar being channelled. It is nice to see two main characters of strength, despite physical handicaps, and it is clear that Hiccup grew up into a whole person, even though he grew up without a mother.

Dean DeBlois co-directed the first instalment takes over this one as writer-director, alongside original writer Cowell. He has chosen to make great and frequent use of a vast multitude of flying segments that will thrill and amaze viewers in their complexity and beauty. In this area, Two is far superior to One. If you like to fly, this is your film. Dragon One focused primarily on the budding and sugary sweet friendship between Hiccup and Toothless. Dragon Two explores family relationships and obligations more intimately, yet doesn't really feel much like a prequel to Dragon Three, due out in June of 2016. A fourth instalment, or a split of Dragon Three into two films, is circulating the rumor mill. Back in 2010, Katzenberg of Dreamworks said the following, "Kung Fu Panda actually has 6 chapters to it, and we’ve mapped that out over the years. How To Train Your Dragon is at least three: maybe more, but we know there are a least three chapters to that story. There are actually 8 books… right now, today, we know that there are three for sure that we want to tell and there may be more. We haven’t thought, you know, how do we continue beyond that."

How to Train Your Dragon 2 could be the best animation offering we see this summer. Escape to Berk and enjoy the ride.
(Review by Cheryl Wurtz)

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