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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (3D)
20th Century Fox // PG // June 13, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
While animated motion pictures continue to make a lot of money, superhero flicks are the summer films that receive the most word-of-mouth around younger audiences. Pixar was once viewed as being at the top of the pyramid, but they have abandoned their post. DreamWorks has surprisingly improved upon what many consider to be disappointing entries into the animated engine. How to Train Your Dragon generated many fans of all ages, making a sequel inevitable. However, DreamWorks is continuing to seek for that perfect balance between a children's film and a nostalgic trip for adults. This can be a difficult feat for filmmakers who are also trying to make something innovative and genuine.
Five years after Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless (Randy Thom) changed how the townsfolk view dragons, they become encouraged to travel more of the world. They discover an ice cave filled with hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, who protects them. A new enemy has surfaced with an army of dragons, and it's up to Hiccup and Toothless to protect the peace between humans and dragons before all of their progress is destroyed.
The first act introduces the new perspective that the humans have in Hiccup's hometown. People and dragons are living together happily, and even equally participate in a popular festival game called the "Dragon Races." This peace isn't interrupted until Hiccup wishes to find himself by scouting unfamiliar territory. He finds himself placed in the middle of a situation that's more than he bargained for. This is a smart way for writer/director Dean BeBlois to continue this protagonist's journey. Now that he's a little bit older and more mature, it's time for him to find his place in the world. Perhaps he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps. This is an appropriate obstacle that many young adults face around the world. It can be difficult to truly find oneself, and Hiccup believes that seeing the world will help him do this. How to Train Your Dragon 2 works with a couple other worthwhile themes and messages that many young adults will be able to sympathize with. Adults will be able to easily identify with the hero of this story, as we've all gone through a similar search within ourselves at one point or another.
In order to understand the future, it's necessary to look to the past. This is exactly how DeBlois continues the plot, as we learn a lot more about Hiccup and his hometown's history. Numerous behaviors held by characters are explained, as we get a better understanding of the situation between humans and dragons. Unfortunately, the marketing campaign has spoiled some of the film's greatest reveals. Given our knowledge from the official trailer, there aren't many surprises to be had in learning about this past. Regardless, the film treats these scenes as being shocking, which heavily reduces the impact. DeBlois moves the plot on a worthwhile path, which is heavily hindered by this lack of potential surprises. While this isn't the fault of the film itself, it's a serious issue that affects the viewing experience. Yet, the screenplay is responsible for one major problem that becomes unnecessarily concerned about pacing. The characters have minuscule reactions to huge revelations, leaving the character development somewhere in the shadows. While this is ultimately a children's film, it shouldn't compromise on moments of real emotion in order to get to the action faster.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 has quite the build up to a climax that promises to be much bigger than that of its predecessor. Audiences will be excited to know that it delivers on that promise. We're placed in the middle of a huge battle with humans and dragons that will keep you entirely engaged. If anything, this climax displays that there are so many species of dragons that we have yet to see. This sequel shows some truly powerful creatures that truly put up a fight against Hiccup and Toothless. It's never easy for our protagonist and his dragon, as How to Train Your Dragon 2 explores darker material than expected. Younger audiences will be able to handle this material, but adults will surely appreciate writer/director Dean Deblois' attempt at keeping older viewers invested in the story. There are real consequences for one's actions in this animated feature, which is truly rare to find in other motion pictures in the same genre.
Animation seems to become more impressive by the day. DreamWorks will stun viewers once again, although not with every aspect. Some of the character faces feel a bit stiff, as the picture still doesn't quite capture many human expressions that it strives for. However, How to Train Your Dragon 2 truly shines with the details found in the environments and clothing. Every mountain, piece of ice, and cloud formation looks absolutely breath-taking, as DreamWorks has successfully brought this world to life. Each piece of cloth has such a stunning level of detail, that you'll constantly find yourself noticing the stitch work in Hiccup's flying outfit. The 3D utilizes the format's sense of depth quite often. Even when dragons are flying side-by-side, this motion picture looks absolutely phenomenal on the big screen. Fortunately, there isn't much popping out at the screen, as DeBlois utilizes the technology in a tasteful manner.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of those rare sequels that actually matures with its young viewers. It both explores relevant messages and ventures into darker subject matter. If nothing else, it shows the possible staying power of a franchise that's just getting started. The characters are incredibly likable, and the dragons are highly enjoyable. However, dramatic opportunities should be seized rather than avoided. It makes for even more intriguing characters. The trailers might have spoiled some major plot points, but this is still an enjoyable moviegoing experience for all ages. How to Train Your Dragon 2 glides in the right direction. Recommended.