Film review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

It’s been a good year for animation.  We’ve already had the frantic energy of The Lego Movie and the colour and rhythm of Rio 2, while Disney’s Planes:Fire and Rescue and Guillermo del Toro’s intriguing Book Of Life are still to come.  But for now we’ll just have to settle for what could be at the top of the pile come the end of 2014.  How To Train Your Dragon 2.

Those who saw the original will know that it was all about the forbidden friendship that grew between Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and an injured young dragon, Toothless.  And that there were a few loose ends left at the end of the film, including the fate of Hiccup’s mother.  Those that come to the sequel without having seen the first one won’t feel they’re missing out especially, as Dragon 2 happily stands up on its own.

 

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It’s four years since we last met the inhabitants of the island of Berk, with their hybrid Scottish/Viking culture.  Hiccup is resisting the efforts of his father, the island’s leader Stoick The Vast (the voice of Gerard Butler), to prepare him as his successor – and to persuade him to marry the feisty Ingrid (voiced by Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera).  But Hiccup’s travels away from Berk lead him and the faithful Toothless to come up against the evil Drago Bludvist, who plans to destroy Berk and its whole way of life.

In animation terms, the four years between the first film and this one could be four decades.  Not that the animation was bad in the original, but in this one it’s jaw-droppingly good.  Technically and creatively, it’s a stunner and all you can do faced with the likes of the dazzling array of dragons to the crowds at the dragon racing is sit back and admire it.  The 3-D is equally effective and genuinely helps to bring the film alive, action sequences and otherwise.

 

But awesome – literally – though the animation is, it’s also at the root of the film’s basic problem.  There’s a distinct feeling that the animators became carried away with their enthusiasm for their work, cramming every scene with as much detail, that there’s simply too much happening on the screen to take in.  The action sequences are both relentless and intricate, which means you don’t know where to look first – or next – and you feel you’re missing other little nuggets happening on the screen.  It sounds mean-spirited to say it, but the film is simply too clever for its own good.

Which means that while you admire it, you don’t necessarily feel involved or engaged.  All the emphasis has gone on the technical wizardry, overlooking one vital ingredient that it needs – a sprinkle of true magic.

 

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There is one exception, and that’s the scene-stealing dragon, Toothless.  He’s re-written the saying about never acting with children and animals to include dragons!  He’s funny, loyal, totally captivating and will bring a lump to your throat more than once.

My rating is 8/10 and that’s because it’s impossible not to admire the dazzling animation and technical wizardry in How To Train Your Dragon 2.  It sets the standard for the rest of the year at the very least and will seriously take some beating.  For those who didn’t go to the preview screenings last weekend, it will doubtlessly be in their must-see list for the start of the holidays.  But without the warmth to tug at your heart strings, it falls just short of real greatness.

London Mums magazine editor Monica Costa had a different view on the movie and did not quite like it as much. She said: ‘There are too many dragons that get bigger and bigger during the actions. I did not like the scenes where the sheep was thrown into the air as part of a ‘fun’ game by the Vikings. This kind of justifies acts of cruelty to animals in the children’s eyes. It was unnecessary and spoilt the movie from the beginning. I also did not appreciate the sexual remarks of one of the female Vikings who vocalised her attraction to other Vikings in many occasions. This alone makes the movie PG. I appreciate producers these days want to appeal to parents as much as to children but the supposedly ‘funny’ remarks were not really necessary and completely out of place. I asked both my 8 year old and my friend’s 1o year old daughter what they thought and they replied that it wasn’t as good as the first film. My rating is 4/10 and the kids was 6/10.’

How To Train Your Dragon 2, certificate PG, is released throughout the UK on Friday, 11 July 2014.

 

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