Writer/Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
Dreamworks Animation has made some fantastic animated franchises like Madagascar, Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to Chicken Run. They have another successful one under their belt with How to Train Your Dragon 2. In the Viking land Berk, the Vikings and dragons are friendly and peaceful. For many of the characters, their dragons are their best friends. Our favorite Viking Hiccup (Baruchel) has grown up a bit since the first film. He is eager to explore new and uncharted territories with his dragon pal, Toothless. He is joined by his friend Astrid (Ferrera) on his adventures, and they uncover an area covered in ice. They are captured by Eret (Harington) who tries to steal their dragons for the evil conqueror Drago (Hounsou). Before Hiccup and Astrid are too deep into danger, they are rescued by Hiccup’s dad Stoick (Butler) and are warned of Drago’s twenty war history of capturing dragons for his personal army. Hiccup will always try to play the peacemaker and in turn heads out to confront Drago. Along his way, he meets the mysterious Valka (Blanchett), a dragon rider who has spent the last twenty years trying to rescue dragons from Drago. She also has a familial connection to Hiccup.
One of the first things you will notice with this series is the stunning animation. There are so many creative and distinct choices made with the design of the dragons and the Viking world. It is a visual feast that often kept me focused on its execution. Numerous times I caught myself watching the animation over listening to the dialogue. If you have seen the first film, you will realize the animators have wisely aged some of the characters like Hiccup and Astrid to show the passing of time. I’m glad they chose to keep Toothless as a non-talking creature. They bring so much personality into his character that you don’t need a voice added to it. There is a dragon race that opens and ends the film that definitely feels like you are on an action ride at some theme park. I normally shy away from 3D films, but I think it is worth it for animated films. The 3D enriches the already striking animated visuals in a way that typically ruins many live action films.
Many of the actors from the first film lend their voices again for the sequel including: Jay Baruchel (This is the End), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), and Jonah Hill (22 Jump Street). Heavy hitters Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), and Djimon Hounsou (Amistad) join the cast. This is Blanchett’s second animated film after doing a voice in the English version of Miyazaki’s Ponyo. I found that the voice over work is subtle compared to your standard kids movie. Usually you have someone being this loud mouthed obnoxious sidekick playing for laughs like Eddie Murphy in Shrek. I never once felt like these characters were written for shtick and comedy purposes. While I recognized the voices of Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Neighbors), they never overpowered their scenes or distracted from the story.
Even if you haven’t seen the first film, you will still be able to understand and have fun with this one. If you do have the opportunity, go and Redbox or Netflix the first one just to have a better understanding of the background of these characters and how the land of Berk has changed between both movies. Again, it’s not imperative as this story does stand on its own but certain specific details will make more sense. Parents will appreciate the themes of family loyalty, acceptance of others, and the responsibilities that come with having a pet. This is a perfect movie for kids that may still be a bit young for the Harry Potter series. The dragon race game that opens the fim is very similar to Quidditch. If you’ve enjoyed both films, you will be happy to know that writer/director Dean DeBlois has announced that How to Train Your Dragon 3 is in the works. He stated that he sees the story as a trilogy and that the third part is not some quick and easy way to make more money.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? There’s a lot of charm and heart with this sequel that is equally enjoyable for any member of the family.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS