This 'Dragon" flies into darker territory

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***.5
By Kevin Thomas

In 2010, DreamWorks Animation needed a hit. Other than the “Shrek” franchise, the company was getting good box office returns, but mixed critical reviews most of the time. Then they released “How To Train Your Dragon”, a fantasy comedy about a Viking who, as the title suggests, trains an injured dragon that he finds. The film had loads of humor, a light tone, and lots of heart. It’s one of my favorite animated films for all those reasons. The other, more personal reason is that I could identify with the main character in a way that I couldn’t with other animated characters.

He was 15, scrawny, and he beat to his own drum, not yet ready to become a man, the same point that I was at that age. It’s been four years, and my tastes have changed when it comes to animated movies. I look more at the animation than the story, which I never thought I would do. The point is that time changes us; we mature as we age, expecting more out of our entertainment. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” knows that, and it is more mature than the original. It decided to grow up with its audience, and, for the most part, that’s a good thing.

The story picks up four years after the last movie ended.

The inhabitants of the island of Berk are no longer afraid of dragons, but instead see them as the peaceful creatures that they are. We rejoin Hiccup (voiced once again by Jay Baruchel) as he is still adjusting to being older, preferring to play with his dragon Toothless (one of the cutest animated creatures in recent years). His father, Stoic (voiced by Gerard Butler) wishes for him to rule over Berk, but Hiccup doesn’t think he’s ready. Luckily, Hiccup has a girlfriend, Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) to cheer him up.

The young couple goes riding and discovers dragon trappers lead by Eret (voiced by Kit Harington). When Hiccup explains that dragons are peaceful, Eret laughs in his face, telling him that all dragons go to Drago (voiced by Djimon Honsou), a vengeful trapper. The two escape back to Berk and attempt to tell Stoic about Drago, but he tells them to stay out of it. Ever an optimist, Hiccup embarks on a journey to find Drago and convince him of the peaceful nature of dragons. Unbeknownst to him, Hiccup will encounter someone who will change his life forever.

I loved the original movie for its rich mixture of humor and heart, something that many animated movies cannot balance. It seems like many kid flicks are so intent on keeping kids’ attention that they feel rushed, not giving us enough time to know the characters before getting the main plot going. “How to Train Your Dragon” took the time for us to know the main players before the plot took flight, thus allowing us to further appreciate the film.

This installment develops the plot more quickly than the first, but it has a raw emotional core and a more serious storyline, as well as the maturation of the teen characters. I am again around the same age as Hiccup; therefore I have also grown up, but still wish to act younger sometimes, allowing me to identify with some of his struggles. That could just be me though. As I said above, the overall tone of the movie is noticeably darker than the previous installment, but with just enough humor to calm little kids down. I really liked the emotional punch of the story as well as how seriously the film took itself at some points.

The movie has a few minor problems. It does slow down a little in the second act, but it picks up by the start of act three. Also, while the facial expressions are quite exquisite on many of the characters, one character expresses herself as if she had a Botox injection recently. Perhaps the biggest letdowns are the lack of 3D effects (which were so amazing in the first movie) and the flying sequences which are not as awe-inspiring. Other than these minor issues, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is an action-packed, family-friendly romp.

Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor

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