Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Five years after Hiccup miraculously brokers a truce between his fellow Vikings and their long hated enemies, the dragons, harmony has continued to flourish as these two once despised adversaries now live together in peace on the island of Berk. As Hiccup and his beloved dragon Toothless explore more distant, uncharted lands, they stumble across a hidden ice cave, home to a mystifying new dragon rider and sanctuary to a myriad of exotic dragons. Unfortunately, Hiccup’s explorations have also come to the attention of a treacherous foe from his father’s past. As the safety and future of Berk is put in jeopardy, Hiccup must unite both men and dragons in the hope of stopping this unrelenting assailant before his diabolical plan enslaves them all.
I’ve always seen DreamWorks Animation studios as having a bit of an inferiority complex when compared to other major animation giants like Pixar and their parent company Walt Disney Animation Studios. Unfortunately, when you examine their recent resume of franchises, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Antz, Shark Tale, Chicken Run, Bee Movie, Megamind, Puss in Boots, Turbo, The Croods, even their most successful films just can’t quite compete with the best of what Pixar has created. However, their one bastion of hope for true greatness came from an unexpected source. Despite receiving solid reviews, 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon was a film that was originally seen as a box office disappointment. But thanks to strong word of mouth, mainly through movie internet sites like IMDb, How To Train Your Dragon became a DVD darling, building quite the following of adoring fans who couldn’t get enough of Hiccup and his faithful companion, Toothless.
When DreamWorks announced a sequel was in the pipeline, I was cautiously optimistic to see where they would take this enchanting tale while also concerned that if mishandled, it could ruin the legacy the first film worked so hard to build (i.e. what happened to the Shrek series). However, any fears I may have had going in quickly dissipated as this second effort not only met my expectations, but far exceeded them. Like in the first film, the ethereal partnership the two main protagonists, Hiccup and Toothless, share is profoundly heartfelt, as we truly connect with the affectionate devotion these two have for one another. While Hiccup, voiced with the uniquely nasaled pitch of comedic actor Jay Baruchel, remains the scrawny, peacekeeping underdog, Toothless once again steals the show, emoting a charming likeability that ranks right up with Hollywood’s most beloved animal sidekicks. Together, they make an undeniably charismatic duo.
As these franchises have developed into huge money making ventures for studios, animation voice-over has become quite the lucrative side gig for actors. Joining Baruchel is a who’s who of Hollywood acting talent, each lending their unique inflection skills to aid in the voicing of these many characters. Cate Blanchett is the biggest addition to the sequel, joining Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, and Djimon Hounsou, whose maniacal delivery perfectly captures the frenzied persona of the film’s villain, Drago. Together, these and many other gifted actors bring an extra level of respectability to an art form that was once thought of as just for kids.
In regards to the film’s visuals, How To Train Your Dragon 2 offers an exalted, aerial ballet seldom seen on screen in any genre, let alone animation. The aeronautical scenes take you on an eye-popping joyride, as the extremely gifted animators expertly capture what it would be like to swoop and soar among the clouds. Battle scenes, especially those between the great Bewilderbeasts simply took my breath away, as the sheer overwhelmingness of these majestic creatures engulfed the visual scope of the screen, leaving me feeling like a tiny, awed child sitting in my theater seat.
In one of my most recent reviews about 22 Jump Street, I touted that directors Lord and Miller’s other 2014 film, The Lego Movie, was the current Oscar front runner for the Best Animated Feature Film. Well, The Lego Movie now has some seriously stiff competition for that honor in How To Train Your Dragon 2. I haven’t been this excited about an animated feature since Pixar’s Up. DreamWorks Animation has accomplished the near impossible, creating a sequel that not only builds on the success of their esteemed first film, but far exceeds it. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a truly exhilarating piece of cinema that ascends to the upper echelon of the all-time animated feature films.-JL