HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (PG)
103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2
The story: Five years on from How To Train Your Dragon, Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless are having fun every day flying out and exploring new territories. They stumble upon a cave where they discover hundreds of dragons living together, as well as the woman (Cate Blanchett) who is keeping them safe. Turns out that the woman, named Valka, is Hiccup's long-lost mother, whom he had presumed to be dead all this time.
This is how all sequels should be made.
It revisits the beloved world from the first movie, but is not lazy about maintaining a strong-enough storyline for it to stand on its own.
Too many other animated sequels these days are churned out so quickly and sloppily that it is clear the studios are only hoping to make a quick buck banking on the success of the first. Rio 2 and Ice Age: Continental Drift are just some of the recent duds to hit the big screen.
Then again, this is the highly anticipated follow- up to How To Train Your Dragon, a film that many consider to be Dreamworks Animation's true pride, one that is arguably on a par with some of Pixar's best works.
Rather than simply relying on cutesy characters or a fancy A-list cast of voice talents, the first film had shone mostly due to its moving script.
Fortunately, writer-director Dean DeBlois lives up to expectations with a new work that is filled with both wit and heart.
Here, Hiccup is older (he actually looks it too) and more self-assured, and the special emotional bond he has with his dragon Toothless is stronger than ever.
The opening scenes of the two playing and flying together are sweet and believable without ever being cloying. It breaks your heart when their friendship is tested later on, as a much more powerful external force threatens to break Toothless' loyalty.
In fact, there are some real emotional losses here, reflective of what it is like to get embroiled in a major war. Fans of the first film will remember how Toothless had lost a piece of his tail fin, and Hiccup had lost a leg, proof that this franchise is hardly one where everything is seen through rose- tinted lenses.
Which is why the film also manages to hit that sweet spot where it appeals to both adults and children alike: It neither dumbs itself down to silly slapstick gags to milk the kids for easy laughs nor does it resort to snarky remarks in order to win over older viewers. It simply delivers on a touching, believable story about love and family, although it does get overly long and could do with some judicious editing.
Visually, the dragons have never looked better. Every scale glistens and the bright rainbow colours of the different dragon species pop against the lush mountain background.
Reportedly, animators have confessed that a 30-second battle scene here - in which the sky is rendered almost completely dark with hundreds of dragons flying about - would never have even made it to storyboards just four years ago, due to the lack of the right technology.
Good thing that the animation tools have since caught up then, because the sequence is truly stunning to watch.
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