Friday, June 20, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - Hiccup Grows Up

Hiccup Takes Control

How to Train Your Dragon 2
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" (2014).
DreamWorks Animation had an amazing run from "Antz" to "Puss in Boots," creating a killer lineup of original animated characters such as Shrek and the "Kung Fu Panda" gang that are beloved by viewers and have drawn huge (and loyal) audiences. That success emboldened company chief Jeffrey Katzenberg to diversify the company into theme park projects around the world, including massive projects in London and Shanghai, China. One of the jewels in the DreamWorks crown was the 2010 "How to Train Your Dragon," a classic tale from about a boy - Hiccup - and his dragon, Toothless.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup has grown up.
Well, great films beget sequels at DreamWorks as surely as Disney keeps churning out new Princess films, so "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (2014), directed and adapted for the screen as was the original by Dean DeBlois, was inevitable. It comes at just the right time for the studio, as DreamWorks' last few releases collectively have been money-losers and raised serious financial questions about the over-extended studio by investors.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Fortunately for DreamWorks, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is another crowd-pleaser that doesn't just extend Hiccup's adventures, but embroiders and enhances them into entirely new swirling patterns of delight.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup maps out his next adventure.
It is five years after the events in the original film, and Hiccup's success at converting the dragons from enemies to friends has continued. The dragons live with the Berk villagers as friends and companions, and Stoick the Vast, Hiccup's father, wants Hiccup to take over as chief. Hiccup, though, still enjoys exploring new places with Toothless.

One such journey leads him and his girlfriend, Astrid, to a mysterious fortress encased in ice. A dragon trapper named Eret appears and weirdly blames them for the destruction of the fort, then tries to capture their dragons. It turns out that Eret works for a warlord named Drago Bludvist who is amassing a dragon army to further his designs to take over the world.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup and Toothless.
Hiccup and Astrid escape on their dragons and return to the village, where Stoick tells them that Drago is a known madman who eventually will plunge Berk into war. Hiccup then is captured by a dragon rider named Valka, who turns out to be Hiccup's long-lost mother. Valka reveals that she has spent the past twenty years fighting Drago by springing dragons from his traps and securing them on an island created out of ice by the leader of the dragons, the Alpha dragon named Bewilderbeast.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup and Astrid.
Stoick tracks down Hiccup and reunites with Valka, while Astrid kidnaps Eret. It turns out to be a trap, though, and they, in turn, are captured by Drago, who thereby learns about Berk and its tempting dragons. Drago then attacks Valka's dragon sanctuary, and he brings along his own Alpha dragon to fight Valka's Bewilderbeast. The two Alpha dragons battle it out, and Drago's dragon wins, thus leading all the dragons on the island to follow Drago.

Drago also orders Hiccup killed, and Toothless, who has changed sides due to the power of his new leader, tries to kill Hiccup with a plasma blast. Stoick intervenes, though, and is hit and killed instead. Drago then figures that Hiccup is no longer a threat and rides off on Toothless to destroy Berk.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Drago and Astrid.
After giving Stoick a ship burial, Hiccup and the others ride off to defend Berk on baby dragons, which are too young to be subject to the Alpha dragon's power. Drago has taken over the dragons in Berk, and Drago again orders Toothless to blast Hiccup. Toothless, though, won't do it, so Drago orders his Alpha dragon to take care of both of them, which it does by encasing Hiccup and Toothless in ice. Toothless, however, still has his plasma gun, and he blasts away the ice, then starts blasting away at Drago's Alpha dragon. This damages the Alpha dragon, breaking its left tusk, and Drago and the dragon flee into the ocean. Hiccup becomes Berk's new chief, Toothless becomes the new Alpha dragon, and the villagers build a statue in memory of Stoick.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Astrid is free-spirited.
The real treat of "How to Train Your Dragon 2" isn't the story, which is entirely predictable and follows the pattern of the original film. It is the magnificent visuals, with soaring scenes of Hiccup, Toothless and the others flying through the clouds. There's also the developing relationship between Hiccup and Astrid, in which Astrid teases Hiccup and he displays nerdy charm. The good-natured flirting competition between the two is a refreshing answer to the profoundly entertaining but romantically sterile "Frozen," which still hangs over the entire animation field like a rainbow (or dark cloud, depending upon your perspective).

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The confrontation between Hiccup and Drago.
The real star of "How to Train Your Dragon 2," though, isn't Hiccup, though he is the independent leader throughout. It is Toothless, who comes into his own and reveals his uniqueness as the last of the Night Furies. He is a unique animated character, combining energy and strength with devotion to Hiccup which very strongly resembles that of an adoring canine companion. Hiccup and Toothless have a profound spiritual connection that doesn't require any dialog to affect the viewer.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The same voice actors return, and they all do a good job. Jay Baruchel voices Hiccup with slightly more authority than in the original, while Gerard Butler is suitably blustery as Stoick. America Ferrera turns on the charm as Astrid, while Djimon Hounsou creates a fine character out of the rather generic bad-guy Drago, who surely will be seen again in the next film of the series. The rest of the voice cast, while filled with big names such as Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and Craig Ferguson, does little, throwing off occasional one-liners and then clearing the scene for the stars. The dragons are the real stars of "How to Train a Dragon 2," and they carry the film without having to say anything.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" delivers not just adventure and battles, but also a hint of romance. Combine that with some of the best animation you'll ever see (until the next sequel, no doubt) and you have a great summer 3D CGI animated adventure/fantasy film. Below is a video released by the studio of the first five minutes of "How to Train Your Dragon 2."


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