Wednesday, June 25, 2014

mother of dragons

How to Train Your Dragon, based on the series of books by Cressida Cowell, was a fun, quirky little entry in the glut of animated films that has come down the pike since Toy Story. Dragon has flown (ha) slightly under the radar compared to the enormous success of other animated films, but it has quietly, successfully, and adorably forged its own franchise, which shows no sign of stopping. Between film releases, DreamWorks Animation has sandwiched an entertaining animated television series, DreamWorks Dragons, and a few special shorts as well. The second feature length movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, the second in a planned trilogy, was released recently, and it was just as much fun as the first, and even more visually stunning than expected.

This sequence was reminiscent of My Neighbor Totoro and other gorgeous Japanese animation, which is high praise indeed

Dragon has done a good job of sketching the Viking world of Berk, a place where Vikings, dragons, and some unfortunate sheep try to coexist. The animators actually base their stunning backgrounds on real Norwegian locations, including Oslo, Bergen, and Svalbard. In the first film, young Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of Berk's Viking chieftain Stoick (Gerard Butler), met a Night Fury dragon that he named Toothless, and proceeded to not only train the dragon, but his fellow Vikings — that humans and dragons could not only live peacefully together, but become friends. In the second film Hiccup has grown, along with his friends and Toothless. Life in Berk is pretty idyllic (except for the local sheep who have to take part as targets in human/dragon sporting events (note: no animated sheep were harmed in the course of the movie, just man-handled and annoyed). But there is trouble on the horizon, with a gang of dragon hunters led by Eret (Kit Harington), who have to answer to a villainous boss named Drago (Djimon Hounsou). While Hiccup and Toothless are trying to evade the hunters they run across a pro-dragon vigilante, who also happens to be Hiccup's long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) — no spoiler, as her identity is revealed in all the ads and trailers.

Hiccup and Toothless are as cute together as ever

The plot is your standard good guys vs. bad guys, but there are some surprisingly sweet and sad emotional moments in the midst of all the dragon adventure. But the real prize is the stunning animation — of the rugged yet beautiful landscape of Berk, and especially, some of the "new" dragons. Hiccup has grown, and is even sporting a little stubble. He also gets just a little canoodling time with his fellow dragon trainer and friend-turned-girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) before the story gets going. The voice cast is good, and features many well-known actors, like Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and Craig Ferguson, but they tend to disappear nicely into their roles, rather than create star turns.

I have to admit that I was a little confused by Hiccup's mother's reasons for staying away from her Viking family and instead opting to live in the world of dragons. But her hideout sure is pretty to look at, and her backstory didn't seem to bother my 10 year-old daughter, who loved the film. It will be interesting to note if that changes once we check out the movie when it comes to dvd and aren't distracted by the soaring large-scale dragons and movie theater 3D.


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