How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review – Soaring Sky High

Director: Dean DeBlois

Writers: Dean DeBlois (screenplay), Cressida Cowell (novel)

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson 

Release date: June 13, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes



Best part: The wondrous visuals.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

Certainly, Mega-conglomerate/animation playground Dreamworks has delivered its fair share of soaring highs and crushing lows. As critics and filmgoers know, this multi-billion dollar studio spoils its spectacular achievements (Antz, Kung Fu Panda) with forgettable time-wasters (Megamind, Rise of the Guardians) and pitiful misfires (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens). Laughing all the way to the bank, Steven Spielberg and co.’s company, at one point, took on a habit of looking past constructive criticism whilst delivering passable-at-best efforts. However, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has rebooted Dreamworks’ once-declining reputation.

Jay Baruchel & America Ferrera.

Assuredly, How to train Your Dragon 2 establishes this studio’s true potential. Catching up to Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, this company’s greatest creation soars higher than birds, planes, and daydreams. As we all know, this series deals with far more interesting winged beasts. This sequel, examining everything that made the original a momentous success, puts the pedal to the metal from frame one to frame…let’s not keep count. For despite the exhaustive number of man-hours and intricate, scene-stealing creations, this instalment successfully utilises every strand of the animation filmmaking process. Before I finish singing its praises, I should describe the plot’s most basic conceits. This instalment picks up five years after the groundbreaking yet patchy original. We are re-introduced to geeky Viking/dragon tamer Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he watches over the peace-laden village of Berk. Nowadays, he and his scaly friend Toothless whistle through the skies whilst exploring strange and significant lands. Supported by his father – and village chieftain – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), blacksmith Gobbler the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and girlfriend Astrid (America Fererra), Hiccup is faced with his greatest challenge yet: growing up. In the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, Hiccup must contend with his father’s overwhelming expectations and the village’s safety.

Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.

Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.

The original, placing flavour-of-the-month actors in hearty roles and utilising 3D technology’s endless possibilities, was one of 2010’s most enthralling success stories. Riding on the back of Avatar‘s immense critical and commercial glory, the original displayed the big-budget entertainment’s boundlessness. So, what separates the sequel from the original? Surprisingly, this instalment scorches the first movie’s foibles and constructs a more meaningful and succinct experience. This time around, several new and old characters are charged with purposeful positions in the narrative. Here, we have humans and monsters fighting each other for control of the world. Building upon its influences, this sequel seeks to expand this already glorious universe. In its first few scenes, this instalment breaks genre barriers to soar above its twee competition. Introducing multiple plot-lines, the story heartily rushes from one to the next. Tying up loose ends and burgeoning character arcs, the plot divulges into several touching concepts and sequences. With Stoick expecting Hiccup to take over his chieftain duties, the story clings onto several impressionistic and bold conceits. Touchingly, the baseline plot-thread revolves around its protagonist’s actions and reactions. As the over-arching conflict begins, involving notorious dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and trapper Eret(Kit Harington)’s plans to enslave humanity by controlling the world’s dragon populations, our characters become well-rounded personalities. As familial feuds and allegiance switches rear their ugly heads, sparked by Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the narrative takes several dark turns without becoming dreary. Unceremoniously, like with most family-friendly adventure flicks, the messages lumber into frame alongside the final third’s heartbreaking battle sequences.

“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they’ve all moved in.” (Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), How to Train Your Dragon 2).

One of many impressive action sequences.

Overcoming the corny and tiresome admittances, How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s underlying subtext is surprisingly soulful and potent. Giving hope to our fearless characters, the narrative’s life lessons are worth noting. The movie, unlike most animated efforts, touches on several confronting and intriguing topics. Hiccup, having had his leg amputated in the original, now contends with a multi-functional prosthetic. In addition, several supporting characters relate their crippling injuries to destructive motivations. This series, thinking outside the box, relishes in its violent action sequences and tear-jerking twists. Beyond the sorrowful flashbacks and high stakes, this sequel’s attention to detail and sumptuous visuals are worth the price of admission. Worthy of big-budget cinema’s majesty, some sequences deliver pure escapist thrills and heart-throbbing joys. Improving upon the original’s accomplishments, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins’ influence makes it easy to bask in this fantasy-epic’s glow. Not to be outdone, the intricate animation style develops epic landscapes and a wide variety of dragons. In each frame, dragons, weather patterns, and scenic vistas tell extraordinary stories. Also, unlike most Dreamworks efforts, the voice actors suit the characters on offer. Baruchel, normally miscast, is perfect for this charming and amicable role. As modern animation’s most likeable lead, his puberty-ridden quarrels suit the overarching conflict. Butler’s thundering vocals bolster Stoick’s magnetic presence. In addition, Blanchett, Hounsou, and Harington are welcome additions to this unique franchise. However, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig are stranded in bland and unnecessary comic-relief roles.

Redeeming Dreamworks’ critical and commercial slump, How to Train your Dragon 2 casts aside all blockbuster-related preconceptions to bolster its entertainment factor. This series, breaking off from the sugarcoated animated-adventure formula, raises the bar thanks to its unique visuals, intensifying action sequences, and likeable lead characters. With an enjoyable voice cast anchoring the fantastical story, this tale of familial bonds, sacrifice, and heroic acts never feels like it’s…draggin’.

Verdict: Dreamworks Animation’s most exhilarating effort yet.

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