DreamWorks has enjoyed its share of success with animated films, most notably the “Shrek” and “Madagascar” series. 2010’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” which dealt with a sensitive Viking teenager who befriends an injured dragon, was another huge hit, grossing almost half a billion dollars worldwide. That type of revenue made the decision to produce a follow-up film an easy one, with “How to Train Your Dragon 2” now hitting theaters. The big question: Is the film a worthy sequel to the very enjoyable original? Yes….and no.
Writer and director Dean DeBlois (“Lilo and Stitch”) is back tackling the same duties, but this time solo without partner Chris Sanders, who is listed as an executive producer.
Most of the vocal talent has also returned, including Jay Baruchel as the hero – Hiccup (Baruchel still sounds exactly like Christian Slater). Also back are Gerard Butler as Hiccup’s father, America Ferrera as the young man’s girlfriend, and others including Jonah Hill and Craig Ferguson.
The film begins with an eye-popping, thrilling, aerial dragon race that is a showcase for the latest in 3D effects. And trust me: this is a movie you want to see in 3D to get the full experience. The story is set five years since the end of the last movie and the Vikings and dragons are living together in peace in the land of Berk. That soon changes when Hiccup finds out that hunters are trying to capture the animals to create a dragon army led by an evil and mysterious leader named Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou). Some of the scenes involving the lead hunter – Eret - (Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones”) and one of the love-struck Viking girls (Kristen Wiig) give the film some of its funniest moments.
Besides Drago and Eret, there is also another, major new character. Without giving too much away, she’s voiced by Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) in a part that director Dean DeBlois wrote specifically for her. The filmmaker told Blanchett what he was up to when he saw her at an Oscar ceremony and she enthusiastically said to send her the script as her sons were huge fans of the first film. Some of the movie’s most touching emotional moments happen between her character and Hiccup’s father.
Where the movie stumbles is that it sometimes relies too much on the big, overpowering action sequences when it was the smaller, heartfelt scenes that made the first film so endearing. At times it feels like a “Transformers” movie when a more subtle touch might have been better.
Be warned - parts of the film are very intense, earning the movie a well-deserved PG rating. There are moments of peril and that caused some of the smaller kids at the screening I attended to get very vocally upset.
Thankfully, there is still a fair amount of interaction between Hiccup and his dragon that will leave audiences smiling. There are also a few jokes that are aimed more at adults than kids – including one line from Craig Ferguson on his character’s marital status that might cause a few chuckles.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is big, noisy, and certainly action-packed, but it still has some heart – although not as much as the first film.
3 popcorn boxes out of 4