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How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
Published in 2003 as fictitiously translated from the Old Norse by Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was the first in a series of over a dozen illustrated kids' novels that included How to Train Your Dragon: How To Be A Pirate (2004), How to Train Your Dragon: A Hero's Guide To Deadly Dragons (2008) and How to Train Your Dragon: How To Betray A Dragon's Hero (2013). The debuting book's story differs from the 2010 movie adaptation, depicting scrawny young Hiccup capturing and training Toothless as a rite of passage in his Viking father's Hairy Hooligans tribe. It enjoyed 13 consecutive weeks on The New York Times' Best Sellers' list of top Children's Series in 2010, and its film adaptation garnered two Oscar nominations.
The majority of the cast and crew from the first flick return for this impressive-looking much-anticipated sequel, and it's great DeBlois' new screenplay seems to retain the spirit of the books while cleverly pushing these characters further into a wider ancient world for young and young-at-heart movie goers to tap into. It's freakin' Vikings riding freakin' dragons! What's not to love about that?!
Five years after Hiccup brought peace between dragons and Vikings, his continued uneasiness as Stoick's heir-in-training sends Hiccup on far flung mapping expeditions with Toothless and into the dangerous path of mercenary hunters working for Drago Bludvist towards his diabolical scheme of amassing a huge dragon army. Stoick reacts to Drago's rise by immediately fortifying his warrior village of dragon riders for impending battle. Hiccup sets off to reason with Drago but ends up intercepted by the mysterious dragon master Valka, who shares the astonishing secrets of her secluded frozen sanctuary - revealing her long-lost connection to Hiccup's clan as well.
Probably the most enjoyable aspect of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is that the story expands on what the first film established, while presenting a fresh series of plot twists that wonderfully serve to enrich this ancient world. Example: You learn a lot more about the dragons and their world. Sure, this is still an undemanding pre-teen kids movie spiked with goofy humour and high fantasy throughout, but it's not afraid of intense grown-up themes such as regret and death. There's a strong sense the bigger picture is being guided by a mature hand here. Also noteworthy is how this feature embellishes upon certain familiar things such as Hiccup's keen ingenuity, by further spotlighting his inventiveness - particularly his amazing new fiery sword, the dragon blade. Pure genius.
However, this isn't a perfect animated effort. While much of the art work is fluid and truly stunning, the voice acting tends to feel comparably less impressive at times. No, I'm not talking about Hiccup's North American accent, despite him being raised surrounded by big burly men speaking in thick Scottish burrs. Sometimes you've gotta pinch your nose and swallow stuff like that. It's just that some of this celebrity cast didn't seem to care about fully vocalizing any believable depth to their characters. Like a cheap voiceover. Also disappointing is how fatally bland this sequel's major antagonist is. Drago Bludvist supposedly strikes fear among Vikings and lords over mighty beasts, yet he just plays out like a lazy regurgitation of the already forgettably empty stock bad guy from Epic (2013). Too bad.
Over-all, if you loved the first one you'll definitely enjoy checking out this sequel on the big screen. It's a visually fun ride of impressive storytelling that's well worth the price of admission. Just don't be surprised if some of the characters fall a bit flat. Reviewed 06/14, © Stephen Bourne, moviequips.ca.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is
rated PG by the Ontario Film Review Board, citing suspenseful
situations with short scenes or glimpses of scary characters
or images usually in comedic, fantasy or historic setting, scenes
that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear, limited embracing
and kissing, and restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence,
and is rated G by la Régie du Cinéma in Québec.
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