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Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) — Animated Perfection Breathes Hot Fire into Cinemas

How-To-Train-Your-Dragon-2-

Animated movies these days are a dime a dozen, with studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age), Disney, and newcomers such as Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me) all dominating the 3D computer-animated landscape. This lucrative market is big-business and big bucks, and many of the top grossing films each year are from 3D animated films. But as the quantity rises, the overall quality of the output seems to be taking a dip. Even the once infallible Pixar are no longer a sure thing; increasing the numbers of sequels produced to diminishing critical response.

But every now and then an animated film comes along that reminds us how magical the medium can be with the right execution. Enter How To Train Your Dragon 2.

As manly as Jay Baruchel will get.

As manly as Jay Baruchel will get.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 continues the journey of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon companion Toothless five years after they together brought peace between the Viking village of Berk and the dragons. Hiccup and his cohorts are now on the verge of adulthood, with Hiccup’s father Stoick (Gerard Butler) grooming his son to succeed him as chieftain. But an encounter with the enigmatic Dragon Rider leads the heroic duo to a dragon haven; a massive island of ice which is home to hundreds of dragons. This island sanctuary is coveted by the psychotic conqueror Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), and soon Hiccup and Toothless find themselves in a battle for freedom against Drago’s massive dragon army.

The first instalment of DreamWorksHow To Train Your Dragon was impressive, featuring a focus on character development while incorporating amazing action scenes. Returning screenwriter and director Dean DeBlois (riding solo: this time without frequent collaborator Chris Sanders) maintains the style that was so effective, but expands the emotional scale and action scenes to new, higher levels.

This film is all about relationships, particularly Hiccup’s bond with Toothless, but more importantly Hiccup’s relationship with his father Stoick. The scenes involving Hiccup, Stoick, and the mysterious Dragon Rider are some of the most emotionally resonant moments seen in animation. Despite the exemplary action set-pieces, this film is far more emotionally satisfying once the action stops. It’s really hard to not fall in love with these characters.

Parallel: A major plot point involving Hiccup reflected in this image.

Parallel: A major plot point involving Hiccup reflected in this image.

The brilliance of the screenplay is best exemplified in Toothless and Hiccup’s parallel character arcs. They both begin this sequel more confident people/dragons but still have reservations about accepting the full responsibility of adulthood. After the trials of the film, both characters accept their fate as leaders of their respective communities. The brilliance is that Toothless is able to achieve the same emotional resonance as Hiccup without the luxury of dialogue. These are characters that you truly end up developing a bond with.

The comic relief in HTTYD2 comes in the form of hilarious minor-characters played by comic stalwarts Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Craig Ferguson. The dialogue is kept witty and sharp, and the character interactions are a riot; particularly Wiig’s Ruffnut and her infatuation with Kit Harington‘s trapper turned hero Eret. The only pandering laughs were at the expense of some slapstick involving some perplexed sheep, but they were only used in a minimal matter, and this is the only appearance of relatively cheap humour.

It defies comprehension how far visual effects have progressed since the mid-nineties and Toy Story. If not for the cartoonish designs, the textures and movements are photo-realistic and stunningly intricate. The attention to detail on hair, water, and skin textures is far beyond my grasp. The action scenes are incredibly fast-paced and detailed, rivaling that of many live-action blockbusters. My hat goes off to the hundreds of talented animation professionals which made all this possible; it’s an insane feat.

John Powell returns to follow up on his Academy Award nominated score from the first film, and much like the first instalment his compositions are one of my favourite facets. The soundtrack features a large orchestra and is complemented by harps and bagpipes which give the score its distinctive, Viking-y feel. I rank these scores up there with the best work of John Williams; there’s a reason why it is so highly regarded and Oscar-worthy.

Llama Score: 10I dare say How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the perfect family film. Thrilling action and suspense, great characters and dialogue, and a solid emotional core all make for one of the best films you’ll see this year. This is a film that defies age barriers. Take your kids! Take your spouse! Take your aunt! Take your overweight, diabetic cat!

 

Award: Golden LlamaAward: Lorne MichaelsAward: Recycle

Highlights Banner

– An emotional core to the storytelling.

– Great comic relief sidekicks.

– That outstanding score.

Lowlights Banner

– Nil.

Further Viewing Banner

How To Train Your Dragon

Lilo & Stitch

Fill your shelves with DreamWorks Animation goodness here.

Directed by: Dean DeBlois Written by: Dean DeBlois Produced by: Bonnie Arnold Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington Distributed by: 20th Century Fox Run length: 102 minutes Australian Release: Out now in theatres

 

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