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When last we saw Hiccup and Toothless, the Viking teenager and the Night Fury dragon he tamed, they were celebrating a job well done at the end of 2010’s animated hit How to Train your Dragon.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) had convinced his chieftain father Stoick that not all dragons were bad, and with the help of the wily Toothless (so named because of his retractable teeth), boy, dragon, and villagers had bested a nest of particularly pernicious serpents, and the Nordic village of Berk was at peace with itself and its new winged friends.
Five years later things have changed. Stoick (Gerard Butler) is pushing his son to take up the mantle of heir apparent, but all poor Hiccup wants to do is ride Toothless to far reaches of the land and map new territories. It’s on one such excursion that the first hint of trouble arises: They encounter a band of hunters led by a hunky lout named Eret (Kit Harrington), determined to capture any dragons they encounter and drag them back to their mysterious leader, Drago.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, based on the Cressida Cowell books.
A DreamWorks Animation/ Fox release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.
Running time: 102 minutes.
Cast: Voices of Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett,Djimon Hounsou, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill.
When Hiccup tells Stoick of the encounter, his father’s face darkens. Stoick and Drago have a past, and news that the villain has resurfaced with a dragon army can only mean one thing: war’s coming.
Hiccup is determined to be a one man U.N.; he defies his father and tries to track down Drago (Djimon Hounsou) and plead for civility. En route he encounters another obstacle, a female Dragon Rider who emerges from the mist and seems to know more about Hiccup than any stranger should. She takes him to an island fortress where thousands of wounded dragons now enjoy an idyllic existence. She even gives him new insights into Toothless.
Within 20 minutes the plot arcs of How to Train Your Dragon 2 are set: Will Hiccup take up the mantle of chief? Will father and son reconcile? Will Drago invade peaceful Berk? Will this mysterious Dragon Rider prove a friend or a foe to the Vikings?
Four years ago the original Dragon was a breath of fresh air on the animation landscape, not because it broke any new ground visually, but because it gave us a cheeky new spin on the fish-out-of-water meets boy-and-his-dog scenario. Hiccup was a Viking nerd who had to find his inner warrior (and win the girl in no-nonsense Astrid), while Toothless had to overcome his life-long distrust of humans.
The sequel is a bit darker, with some central characters meeting a nasty fate. The screenwriters also get a bit heavy-handed with their can’t-we-all-get-along speeches; one or two, OK, but Hiccup becomes a veritable Carrie Nation of fire breathers. It would help if Drago had more of a back story instead of being one-dimensional and irredeemable. All we learn is that his village was attacked and he lost limbs.
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Kids likely won’t notice the verbal overkill; they’ll be too enthralled with the animation, which here has been kicked up a notch. We watch dragons soar, twirl, dive, and spit fire, often with their human riders in tow. It’s certainly entertaining, but probably not worth the extra bucks for 3D.
The supporting characters also seem richer this time, whether Cate Blanchett as the beautiful, ethereal Dragon Rider, or Kristen Wiig voicing Viking teenager Ruffnut, who has her sights firmly set on the beefy bad guy Eret. Her reverse-cougar mewling provides ample humor.
There’s an awful lot of expositions for a 100-minute family film, and returning director Dean DeBlois (or Dreamworks or both) clearly paid attention to the success of Disney’s Frozen. Ice is utilized extensively in both the landscapes and the weaponry.
In the bigger is better world of Hollywood sequels, How to Train Your Dragon 2 comes up short. It lacks the novelty of the original and tries too hard to be “about” something more than fun. That means adults will bide their time anticipating every familiar twist, while children, the target audience, will forgo such judgment and willingly surrender to its frenzy of chivalrous fantasy.
Contact Mike Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159