Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Yet another film from my most anticipated list, and I have to say that I was expecting fairly big things from this animated sequel. How to Train Your Dragon is not only my favorite DreamWorks film, but one of my favorite animated films period. When I heard that a sequel had been announced, I admit that I was both excited and a little nervous about it. While the animation studio has done fairly well with its sequels in my opinion (Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda 2), recent animated sequels have unfortunately clouded my view of whether there's even merit in revisiting an animated film series (Cars 2, Monsters University, and even Despicable Me 2 to an extent). However, the creative team behind the first film all seemed on board, and with positive buzz going into my screening, I allowed myself to have some pretty high expectations.

Five years have passed since Hiccup has converted his Viking village to the merits of dragon-training, and his father Stoic is even preparing him to take over as the new chief. However, he's too preoccupied with the new-found freedom his dragon/best friend Toothless provides to think about ruling his village, and the pair frequently sneak off to discover uncharted lands. On one such adventure, however, Hiccup comes across dragon hunters, who are apparently gathering the fire breathers to become part of a dragon army, led by the monstrous Drago Bludvist. Though Hiccup is optimistic that he can change Drago's mind, Stoic is adamant that his son should focus on protecting his people from the coming war rather than attempt to solve the issue through misguided diplomacy. All of this changes, however, when Hiccup comes across another dragon trainer with whom he shares a mysterious connection.

From the opening shot of this film I started to get excited to be back in this world. First off, I have to explain what is probably my biggest reason for loving the original film so much - the music! Anyone who hasn't heard John Powell's incredible Oscar-nominated score for How to Train Your Dragon, please enjoy the following clip (it's just the music and the visuals, but it's still amazing).

It's a masterful display of creativity and sweeping emotion that absolutely captures the feeling of soaring through the air. The combination of the magnificent score and the astounding visuals almost make me tear up every time Hiccup and Toothless take flight. Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, True Grit, The Shawshank Redemption, Wall-E, etc.) was a visual consultant on both the first film and HTTYD 2, and I have to say that this movie may have some of the most beautiful shots in any animated film I've ever seen. For pure spectacle, there's nothing like seeing this film on a big screen to capitalize on the experience.

There's more to this film than pure sensation, however, as the second film in this series takes Hiccup's character to new and interesting places. For one thing, it takes place five years after the events of the original movie, and our main character's age reflects that. He's much more confident in himself, and the respect he receives from his fellow citizens of Birk makes us far more confident in him as well. In fact, during one tense moment where a character voices concern over who will be able to save them, I even overheard my six year-old nephew whisper to himself "Hiccup can!" This movie is perfect for kids, giving them a hero they can relate with as well as an understandable struggle for him to overcome. While some of the humor may be a bit juvenile for older moviegoers, I found myself channeling my inner six year-old and actually enjoying it.

Some sequels tend to rest on the laurels of its predecessor's success, and while that's true for some of this movie, it also takes it in original and even daring directions. There are a lot of surprises in this film, and some of them are even pretty weighty and dramatic, which I definitely appreciated. True, the villain doesn't get a whole lot of dimension, but the movie's emotions are omnipresent throughout and I found myself a little teary-eyed on numerous occasions. As an animal lover, I completely fell in love with the dragons in this film (particularly the adorable Toothless), and having any of them in peril is a guaranteed method for investing me and probably most audiences in the conflict.

Though I have a few problems with the movie's final act, I have to say that I really enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2! It's a worthy follow-up story, even if it may not soar to the heights of the original in my opinion. Do yourself a favor and see it in a theater with the tremendous score filling the room and let the sweeping visuals take you for a ride. I seriously considered giving this one four stars, but I eventually settled  on dubbing this my favorite three and a half star movie of the year.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor