How To Train Your Dragon 2
It's Dragon time again.
It's 5 years on and we're introduced to new and improved village of Berk, upgraded to be a dragon paradise complete with all the facilities any fiery, flying pet could want. The Viking teens from the first movie are now young adults and it looks like we've been spared the details of the teen angst that would ordinarily occur. Which begs the question of how exactly would a Viking teen rebel? Take up the harp? Start bathing regularly and wearing pinstripe suits?
There is one person in this happy picture that's not entirely comfortable with this scaly idyll. Yes, you're way ahead of me here, Hiccup, son of Stoick the Clan Chief and best buddy with the coolest of all of the flyers, Toothless the Night-Fury.
Whilst the rest of the citizens of Berk are enjoying a Dragon-Racing tournament (dont be fooled, it's Sheep-Quidditch), Hiccup and Toothless are happier exploring further afield. Toothless because he's having fun with his rider and Hiccup, because growing up as son of the guy in charge means the dreaded "RESPONSIBILITY...!!".
Dad wants Hiccup to take over the reigns and is pestering his frequently absent son for permission to hang up his forge (blacksmithing being a remarkably down to earth day job for the guy in charge, perhaps we'll see the next generation of the Royals serving up latte with little chocolate sprinkle crowns...).
The trouble with running away from things for long enough, is that you eventually run INTO something, in this case a bunch of dragon trapping mercenaries looking to blame someone for a lost cargo. This encounter sets off the main plot, introducing a bad guy Drago Bludvist (in name only at this point), looking get his hands on all available dragons for military purpose. A platoon of Dragoons perhaps?
A quick escape later, and we're underway with the main narrative. Several, in fact, brought together nicely for the final third act of the film that puts huge numbers of dragons on the screen at the same time without all that Transformers style "What?..Who.?.Does anyone know what's happenning?" shenanigans.
For an animated family film, there are a number of main characters that are streets ahead of some live action performances, although the main villain is a bit one dimensional. The characters are mostly well rounded and non-preachy Gerard Butler has mellowed as Stoick. Jay Baruchel has retained his quirky charm, which actually suits the more confident Hiccup even better this time, and his relationship with Astrid (America Ferrera) is sweet without being sickly.
The relationships have evolved nicely and the characters behave towards each other in a way that makes perfect sense given the ending of the previous film.
There is one major character however who appears to have been educated by consortium, either that or their accent is off on a tour of Scandinavia, via Dublin, Glasgow and Newcastle.
The dragons are great once again, and come across as all sorts of fun, at the top of the pile is Toothless. He is brilliantly animated, with a wonderful set of facial expressions and mannerisms that really sell it to us that this could be a living creature, and we even catch a glimpse of a very different side of him. This transformation is so well done you realize what trouble they'd all be in if he suddenly took a liking to Viking-burgers.
Dragons and people come in all shapes and sizes and, if anything, the people do fare a little worse, you can forgive the variety of the mythical creatures, but some of the villagers are a bit over the top. If you stood Hiccup next to his father for example, their shadows would make the number 10.
The only thing that I'd really call out as a negative (apart from the distraction of the migrating accent - via Wales and Belgium ), is that the pacing is a little off. The villain takes a long time to actually appear (although he does appear in the shadows of a flashback earlier on in the film) and the second act is probably a little too long before we get to first of the major action sequences .
The pacing is a small gripe to be honest, but makes a difference if you are part of the younger end of the audience, as testified by the 6 yr old atomic powered fidget that I brought with me. Once the big dragon fighting sequences kicked off, the control-rods were back in place and critical mass was avoided.
There are some structural similarities between this film and the last, but it's not always about doing something new, it's about how well you do things, and this film does them very well indeed.
The big dragon fighting sequences were indeed big and had dragons in them, they also had big dragons in them, and even better they had big dragons having big dragon fights , so all in all everything was covered off nicely.
Oh. It also has baby dragons in it … awwwww... Useful, plot relevant, baby dragons...
As sequels go - this is a great one, it's smart and it's grown-up, remarkably so at times. It's exciting, funny, emotional, scary, sad and exhilarating, and it's nice to be able to root for them for a change, now for the next one just don't repeat yourselves too much... Oh.. and get a new voice coach...