Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dean Deblois
Stars: voices of Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Djimon Hounsou, Craig Ferguson, Kristin Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T J Miller, Kit Harrington.
Dreamworks has certainly established itself as one of the powerhouses in the animation field over the past twenty years, and now they even rival the mighty Pixar studios with their successful franchises like Shrek and the Madagascar series. And they seem to have another successful franchise on their hands now with the How To Train Your Dragon series, which is based on the series of books written by Cressida Cowell. How To Train Your Dragon has also managed to produce a live theatre experience as well.
This sequel to the 2010 hit film is as good as the original, a rarity amongst sequels which are usually rushed out to cash in on the success of the original film. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is set five years after the events of the first film, and now all the vikings in the kingdom of Berk have their own personal dragons, and man and beast have learned to work together. Hiccup (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) is an endearing young hero, but he is also a bit of a rebel.
Along with his pet dragon Toothless, Hiccup is exploring the world beyond the borders of Berk and is developing a hand-drawn map of the world. They stumble upon a spectacular ice cave that is home to hundreds of dragons, and Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett), a mysterious dragon rider who is trapping dragons. Along the way they discover the presence of a fearsome alpha dragon that has the power to transform other dragons so that they no longer breathe fire but breathe ice instead. It is under the control of Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou, from Blood Diamond, etc), a viking chief and dragon trapper who has found a way to control dragons. Drago is building an army of slave dragons, and is intent on conquering the world. It is up to Hiccup and Toothless to stop him.
There is some great humour here, and lots of action, but there is also some emotional depth to one of the major subplots, as Hiccup is reunited with his long lost mother, thought to have been killed many years earlier. The humour is not specifically aimed at kids this time around, as the film also features some anachronistic touches as well as some wonderful in-jokes that will strike a chord with older audiences. Some of the battle scenes may be a bit too intense for younger audiences, and Drago is a fairly scary character. The deaths of a couple of key characters may also prove a bit took dark for some audiences.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 features some cutting edge computer generated animation, and great use of the 3D process, especially in the spectacular flying sequences and the action sequences. The animation is superbly detailed, rich and captures the textures of the various surfaces, from the skin of the dragons to human hair, grass, fire and rocks. The stunning animation also recreates the surreal fantasy world that forms the backdrop to the action, and brings to life Valka’s stunning iced castle. John Powell’s lush score soars during the exhilarating flying sequences, but it also effectively underscores the emotional moments as well. There is also a strong environmental subtext about humans living in harmony with the natural world that will resonate strongly.
Returning writer/director Dean Deblois (Lilo & Stitch, the first How To Train Your Dragon, etc) calls this the “Empire Strikes Back” of sequels. He is already in preproduction for a third film in the series, making this yet another winning trilogy for Dreamworks.
This sequel also follows the usual tropes of the coming of age genre and deals with themes of tolerance, noncomformity, family, friendship and courage. Hiccup is struggling to come to terms with the responsibilities of being the chief’s son and heir to the kingdom, and is also beset by doubts about his own abilities. Hiccup is also developing a strong relationship with Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), the feisty and tomboyish fellow dragon trainer.
Teenage boys will love the action sequences which are exciting and superbly rendered. The climactic battle sequences are quite hectic and chaotic. However, the film also features a number of strong female characters that provide good role models. Blanchett brings warmth and authority to her reading of Valka, a gentle and compassionate woman who becomes a fierce warrior in defence of her dragons. Kristin Wiig brings humour to her role as Ruffnut, a Viking warrior who positively drools over the hunky pirate Eret (voiced by Kit Harrington, from Pompeii, Game Of Thrones, etc).
The vocal cast also includes Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T J Miller, Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler, ensuring that these vikings speak in a strange mix of accents.