Title: How To Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Major Players: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera
Out Of Five: 4
It feels like How To Train Your Dragon 2 has been out for weeks. In a way it has. Officially, it opens this Friday, 11th July, but there were preview screenings as far back as Father’s Day and again last weekend, so plenty of people have already seen it – and on the basis of last month’s screenings, it’s already hovering just outside the top five in the British box office chart. Which explains that staggered release date.
So what of the film itself? The original How To Train Your Dragon was released in 2010 and was in 3-D, as is the sequel, but animation has travelled at something approximating the speed of light over the past four years and this one is quite another animal. Or dragon.
We’re back with the same crew and in the same place, the island of Berk. Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and Toothless the dragon are now completely inseparable. Snotlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut and Ruffnut are older but no wiser and Hiccup’s father, Stoick The Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler) is preparing his son to be the island’s leader. And he wants him to marry the feisty Astrid (the voice of America Ferrera). But Hiccup and Toothless are facing a bigger and infinitely more dangerous challenge – the evil power of Drago Bludvist, who threatens to destroy Berk’s entire way of life.
Of course, it helps if you’ve seen the original because you’ll know how Hiccup and Toothless started out and you’ll also remember the loose ends left at the end. Like the one about Hiccup’s mother, which is resolved this time round, through the voice of Cate Blanchett. It’s perhaps one of the more predictable moments of the film.
But the main reason for seeing How To Train Your Dragon 2 is the animation. It’s a mind-boggling achievement, both creatively and technically, from the variety of dragons to the creation of the island of Berk and the crowds for the dragon racing – and everything in between. The list of credits for visual effects seems to roll for ever and the investment shows. The 3-D is equally impressive and genuinely enhances the whole movie, action sequences and otherwise. This one needs to be seen in 3-D for the full effect, IMAX for preference.
In fact, so much has gone into the animation that it’s impossible to take it all in. Take those crowds at the dragon races: there are thousands of faces, all individuals, yet there’s only a sweeping glimpse of them, leaving you feeling that you’ve missed out. It’s not the last time. The action sequences are relentless and equally intricate, so you don’t really know where to look first – or next. It sounds churlish to say it, but the film is too clever for its own good and there’s a sense that the makers’ enthusiasm ran away with them. It ends up being just a bit OTT. Or maybe I’m getting slow ……
Which is probably why I found the whole experience somewhat distant and uninvolving. I admired the considerable skill and talent that had gone into it, but somehow that creative energy just didn’t grab me and I left the cinema feeling a touch flat.
There is, however, one exception and that’s Toothless himself. The young Night Fury dragon is undoubtedly the star of the film – funny, loyal and captivating. His interactions with the other dragons are great fun, especially when one of them takes a real shine to him, and he really brings a lump to the throat more than once.
With the summer holidays on their way, I can’t believe this won’t be a hit with family audiences. There’s more than enough action and comedy to keep both children and adults interested and entertained. The children at the screening I attended were clearly lapping it up! Technically and creatively, it’s a seriously impressive achievement. And yet …….
How To Train Your Dragon 2 opens around the UK on Friday, 11 July.