Sunday, June 15, 2014


"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is the best thing DreamWorks Animation has done since the first "How to Train Your Dragon" four years ago. The sequel carries all the same qualities of its magnificent predecessor with astounding and gorgeous visuals (arguably one of the most beautifully animated films ever released), soaring cinematography following these dragons soar through the skies, a glorious score from John Powell that brings back familiar themes and, finally, a hefty amount of emotional depth.

All the characters and original voice acting have returned, starting with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), now looking older and more seasoned, his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and their goofball cohorts voiced by comedic talent Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill and "Silicon Valley"'s T.J. Miller. The village of Berk has been transformed into a land of dragon trainers thanks to Hiccup's bravery in taming his very own Night Fury. In one of the film's first moments, Hiccup soars with Toothless in a breathtaking flight sequence, which for once puts 3-D technology to good use and is probably the only film franchise using it properly these days. The dragon interactions are adorable and endearing, whether it's among humans and their beasts or dragon to dragon (just wait until an entire flock of colorful dragons gets introduced); the filmmakers here are animal lovers, and it shows.

The story takes a moment to get focused and doesn't benefit from the streamlined simplicity of the first outing's narrative. Even so, it's admirable to see how writer and director Dean DeBlois has decidedly expanded his universe and relishes in spending time there. In between the high-flying and fire-breathing, the film is at its most interesting when it dares to be quieter in intimate moments. The storyline grows into something quite adult with a hint of darkness. It's certainly a better "Brave" and is exactly whatever that film wished to be, with themes of family honor, loyalty, forgiveness and carving your own path. And if anyone is worried about the state of female heroism in film, just look to Cate Blanchett's fearless Valka.

This is smart and thrilling filmmaking from an animated studio, what Pixar used to do so well. "How to Train Your Dragon" is the crown jewel franchise in DreamWorks' canon, and if they keep going with it in this same sophisticated fashion, building out a world and advancing character development, finding nuance for both heartbreak and charm in a single swoop, then I'll be on board to see what comes next.

My review of "How to Train Your Dragon"

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