HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
(Dir. Dean DuBois, 2014)
While I largely prefer Pixar’s output, DreamWorks Animation has had some real winners, and their 2010 hit HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON is one of their very best.
An adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s series of children’s books, Dean DuBois’ wildly entertaining fantasy film is filled with a lot of heart, spirit, and a spectacular sense of adventure. It's also my 11-year old nephew Leo’s favorite movie (he claims to have watched it 18 times).
So I took Leo (along with one of his friends, and my Sister-in-Law) to see an advance screening of the film’s follow-up, opening today at a multiplex near you, and am delighted to report that it’s a superb sequel on par with the original.
Writer/director Dubois is again at the helm, with returning lead Jay Baruchel, and thankfully, the entire all-star voice cast, including Gerald Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Jonah Hill (currently in another great sequel opening today) back for another round of training cute dragons.
Baruchel’s Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is now in his late teens, living in his beloved mountainside village of Berk, now a peaceful haven for both Vikings and dragons. Well, as peaceful as it can be with rowdy Vikings and fire-breathing dragons living together.
With the advance in animation, Hiccup's trusted dragon pal Toothless (voiced with a combination of elephant and horse noise mixed with Sound Designer Randy Thom's voice) looks even more like my wife and my pet black cat Trillium Whorl.
Anyway, joining the cast is Hiccup's long lost mother Valka, beautifully voiced by Cate Blanchett. Valka has been away all this time creating her own haven for dragons, a ginormous island of ice populated by thousands of the mythical creatures where they are safe from dragon trappers and the blood-thirsty conqueror Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou). That is, until Drago learns of the habitat's existence.
The film culminates in a massive battle on the shores of the ice island involving Drago's army, a band of Hiccup's fellow Berk-sters, and two colossal alpha dragons called Bewilderbeasts.
Amid its epic scale, and richness of humor, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 has strong emotional weight to it. Hiccup's father Stoick, voiced by Butler in what may be my favorite work of his, re-uniting with Blanchett's Valka is very touching, and sets the scene for an uplifting song and dance duet between them of the Celtic-style ballad “For the Dancing and the Dreaming,” contributed by the Pogues' Shane MacGowan.
It's also a smart sequel that knows that for the stakes to really be high, a beloved character has to meet their demise (don't worry, no Spoilers!).
With many scenes that feature background dragon antics while characters in the foreground converse, and the newly minted franchise's trademark soaring flying sequences, there's always pleasurable eye candy going on, but none of which is notably enhanced by the 3D, so save your money and take the kids to a 2D screening.
My nephew Leo, who loved the movie, told me that DreamWorks already have a HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 in the works set for 2016. Of course they do - that's simply showbiz. But, if they can make a sequel as strong and spirited as this one, more power to them.