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"HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2"
(2014) (voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: Five years after teaching his fellow Vikings how to live peacefully with dragons, a young man must contend with a villain who wants to control all dragons.
PLOT:
Five years after convincing his fellow Vikings of the island of Berk that the dragons they once battled are actually intelligent, peaceful animals, 20-year-old Hiccup (voice of JAY BARUCHEL) has grown up into an outstanding young man, no longer an embarrassment to his father, Stoick (voice of GERARD BUTLER), the ruler of Berk. With his former rival, Astrid (voice of AMERICA FERRERA), now his girlfriend, and other fellow former rivals Ruffnut (voice of KRISTEN WIIG), Fishlegs (voice of CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE) and Snoutlout (voice of JONAH HILL) his friends, the only thing concerning Hiccup is that his father wants him to become the ruler of their island village.

One day while out riding his rare Night Fury dragon he's named Toothless, Hiccup and Astrid have a run-in with dragon trappers lead by Eret (voice of KIT HARINGTON). The young couple manages to escape, but when they return home and inform Stoick that Eret works for Drago Bludvist (voice of DJIMON HOUNSOU), the Viking ruler sounds the alarm and battens down the village with the help of his right-hand man and longtime friend, Gobber (voice of CRAIG FERGUSON), for they're fully aware of Drago and his past, murderous behavior.

Hiccup and Astrid, however, manage to fly away to try to reason with Drago. Before they get to him, the mysterious dragon rider Valka (voice of CATE BLANCHETT) abducts Hiccup, initially unaware that he's her son who she hasn't seen since he was an infant. She's been living among the dragons, including an alpha one known as the Bewilderbeast, and is all too aware of the dangers that Drago posses to all of them. She, Hiccup, Stoick and the rest of the Vikings must then contend with just that when Drago and his forces decide to attack.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
While the average moviegoer simply wants to be entertained in some fashion by what they see on the screen, there's often a fairly gaping disparity between what critics and studio folk want from their cinematic product. Since movie reviewers watch so many more films than most people, they want to see something different, especially since those who've been around have likely seen just about every variation of every story and genre imaginable.

On the flip side, studio folks, while sometimes looking to and/or hoping to make art, are driven to cover their increasing costs and hopefully make a profit in order to appease their company's shareholders. Thus, while critics would have been happy with just the single beginning, middle and end of "How to Train Your Dragon," those at the studio knew they essentially had no choice but to make a sequel.

After all, the computer-animated 2010 offering racked up nearly half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. And while most sequels to live action films don't always generate box office sales equal to that of their predecessor, many a computer animated sequel has out-grossed what preceded it ("Toy Story" made $191 million domestically, while #2 grossed $245 million and #3 grabbed $415 million at the domestic box office).

The problem with going for the cash is that quality sometime suffers, although less so with computer animated films than with their live action brethren, and that some films told a complete enough story in the first outing. Such was the case with the first "Dragon" flick as it told the tale of a teen who's an embarrassment to his father but ends up growing up and changing his fellow Vikings' minds by showing them that the titular creatures could be their friends rather than dragons to battle and kill.

In doing so, the film put a scaly twist on the time-honored "boy and his dog" tale. Simply put, it was a delightful, well told offering contained in a singular package. Upon hearing of the pending sequel, my only thought was how they were going to extend or expand upon the story that already had its satisfying resolution of getting the Viking populace to change and thus peacefully accept dragons into their daily lives.

Of course, such sequel-based story options weren't non-existent, and returning writer/director Dean DeBlois (who co-wrote and co-directed the first flick) has come up with a serviceable plot. Taking place five years after the close of chapter one, one-time loser turned hero Hiccup (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) is still the most popular guy in the island village of Berk, so much so that his father (voiced by the also-returning Gerard Butler) wants to prep him for leadership.

He's not sure he wants it, but surprise, surprise, he's thrown into a predicament with a somewhat surprising turn of events that all but assures that ascension in what will most likely be a third installment somewhere down the line. And that all revolves around an evil ruler (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) who wants to control the dragons and needs to dispatch with a Godzilla-sized alpha dragon known as the Bewilderbeast.

It's been in the company of a woman (voiced by Cate Blanchett) who's been living among dragons for decades and has a connection back to Berk and some of its residents. With a new dragon trapper thrown into the mix (voiced by Kit Harington) and the rest of the main and secondary characters (voiced by the likes of America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig) returning from the earlier film, the scene is set for another dragon-based bout of action, comedy, familial issues and so on.

Such elements play out quite well even considering that no continuation of the story was really needed. Character traits and related humor and drama carry over from the first film, the computer animation is gorgeous to behold, and there's even some far greater depth, quite touching moments, and some potentially unsettling/scary material (in relation to younger viewers) that far exceed what the predecessor utilized.

All of which means all involved should be pleased with the offering. Casual viewers will be entertained, critics will find enough new artistic nuances to give the okay, and those at the studio should be happy with what will likely be handsome financial results. While it naturally covers much of the same ground as before, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is enough of a, pardon the pun, different beast to justify its existence. It rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed June 7, 2014 / Posted June 13, 2014


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