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'How to Train Your Dragon 2' delivers wonderful animation and sticks to formula

DreamWorks

By Conrad Foreman, Daily Arts Writer
Published June 18, 2014

Pixar may be the darling of every animation fan. However, when one considers all the great films to come out of the Pixar studio, it’s easy to forget that DreamWorks has made some pretty great stuff as well. Among their successes have been “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda,” along with the freshly released “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the follow-up to the 2010 Oscar nominee.

The first film saw Hiccup lead a revolution that turned dragons from enemies to companions. Five years later, rather than fight them, the villagers of Berk ride these magnificent beasts, using them to explore and for sport. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, “This is the End”) excels as the best rider of them all due to his devoted friendship with Toothless (a rare Night Fury, perhaps the last of his kind). The innovation of flight has opened Berk to the rest of the world, and when Hiccup discovers the plot of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”) to enslave a dragon army, he must sink his sneakers into the mammoth footsteps of his father (Gerard Butler, “300”) and defend his homeland.

Childhood alienation behind him, Hiccup’s relationship with his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera, “Lords of Dogtown”), has blossomed swimmingly over the years between the films. “2” handles the couple’s time together on-screen very well; she teases him, he pulls off the ‘nerdy-but-cute’ schtick like a pro and the constant competition between them serves as the catalyst to their chemistry.

As is the case with the film’s predecessor, Toothless soaks up the spotlight in “HTTYD2.” His combination of raw power, fierce loyalty, and domesticated-dog-like mannerisms (rolling in the grass, puppy-eyes) make him the perfect companion. Each scene with just Toothless and Hiccup is pure gold in both films; the beauty of the two of them in flight supplants the effects of any dialogue. The power of the pair’s spiritual connection spreads throughout the theater and makes for a delightful viewing experience.

The one aspect in which the “HTTYD” films disappoint is supporting characters. Though the billing seems sufficient enough (Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson), the one-liners (that’s basically all they get) deliver lightly on the laughs; the best of the bunch belong to the least known voices (TJ Miller, HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “Superbad”). Nameless dragons manage to endear themselves better than most of the Berk villagers (though this is a testament to the majesty of the dragons as much as to the lackluster people).

“HTTYD” isn’t afraid to deal with real, powerful emotions, and hasn’t yet forgotten to serve its bread and butter with those fantastic flight sequences. Solid voice acting and wonderful visuals have helped this trilogy (fingers crossed that they have the restraint to keep it as such) deliver on its first two thirds; hopefully the ultimate chapter will prove as impressive.


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