‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ soars
DreamWorks Animation has always lived in Pixar’s shadow.
While the animation, itself, is typically stunning, the studio has never quite been able to nail down the emotional punch that resonates through its competitor’s best work.
The “How to Train Your Dragon” series, however, begs to differ — and then burns that notion to the ground.
An exceptionally human story, but with dragons, 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon” was arguably the best animated film that year, and its 2014 sequel doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s everything a sequel should be, and then some.
Rather than aiming for bigger, louder, better, director and writer Dean DeBlois (“Lilo and Stitch”) builds upon his work from the previous installment, crafting an organic story that’s a delightful extension of the original.
It’s been five years since young Viking Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, “This Is the End”) and his dragon, Toothless, brought about a happy peace between their respective races, and since then, humans and dragons have been living in perfect harmony.
With the help of their winged companions, the Vikings are able to explore the world, and none are quite as eager as Hiccup, one of the village’s most talented dragon riders. When his father, chieftan Stoick (Gerard Butler, “300”), expresses his intent to retire, a frazzled Hiccup, realizing he’ll be the successor, takes to the skies rather than accept the responsibility.
While mapping what seems to be an unknown continent, Hiccup and girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s “Ugly Betty”) encounter a band of dragon hunters, led by the dashing but inept Eret (Kit Harrington, HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), and soon realize something’s seriously amiss.
Warlord Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”) is capturing dragons to build an army, with which he plans to rule the known the world and beyond, threatening the peace between man and dragon. While Stoick insists on fortifying their island, arguing that a chieftan must protect his people, Hiccup feels he can better serve them by reasoning with Drago. But to make matters even more complicated, his efforts are waylaid after encountering a mysterious figure from his past (Cate Blanchett, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”), whose dragon-riding skills surpass even his own.
At the heart of the story, however, is the relationship between a boy and his dragon and the journey —literal and figurative — that they share. Unlike in most animated fare, the characters in “Dragon 2” have visibly aged, literally underlining DeBlois’s theme of personal growth.
Almost by default, the sequel is rich in character development, again building upon the original’s numerous strengths. That includes a colorful and talented cast, including comedian Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill (“Superbad”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Role Models”) and Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”) reprising their roles, brilliant animation and plenty of high-flying excitement, which DeBlois understands is all the more impactful when an audience invests in the characters.
In fact, the writer-director’s next project should probably be “How to Train Your Studio Executives to Trust Original Screenwriting.”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2,” rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone and the Parkway Theatre in West Jefferson. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.