June 9, 2014
The first "How To Train Your Dragon" is one of the most delightful surprises I had in cinema. I went in expecting to hate the film because of its "unattractive" human and dragon animation. However, as the film unfolded, this story of how a boy Hiccup and his new pet dragon Toothless totally changed the history of human-dragon relationships turned out to be outstanding and endearing. Catching this sequel is a no-brainer. We all wanted to see the next chapter in the lives of the two inseparable friends.
Part 2 happens five years after the events of the first installment. Hiccup is now a young man of 20, already reluctantly being primed by his father Stoick to be the new chief of their village Berk. However, Hiccup discovers a plot of a scarred renegade named Drago to form a dragon army to control the world. While his father prepares for war, Hiccup decides to seek Drago out in order to settle the matter peacefully. In his quest though, Hiccup chances upon the secret icy lair of the legendary Dragon Rider, who turns out to be Hiccup's long-lost mother Valka.
The artwork is so much more improved than the first one. The play of the artists on texture is impeccable. The leathery black skin of Toothless, the stubble on Hiccup's chin, the thick hair and beard of Stoick, each little idiosyncratic feature of each of the countless dragons, the flames, the ice, the oceans -- the artists have outdone themselves. The acrobatic flying sequences and battle scenes are very imaginatively executed. The way the artist make us feel the wind currents as the dragons are in flight was unbelievable. The musical score by John Powell is very effective in evoking both the exhilaration of the action scenes, as well as the drama of the intimate scenes.
The voice acting of the actors behind each of the lead characters add so much to their personalities. Jay Barruchel's voice perfectly captures Hiccup as a fun-loving, earnest but lost young man, uncertain where his future really lies. Cate Blanchett's characteristically cool voice lends a lot of credibility to Valka, torn between her commitment to her dragons and to her reunited human family. Gerald Butler's commanding voice as Stoick as warrior can convincingly turn loving and gentle as the situation warrants. Butler will also surprise us again with his singing voice, which we have missed since his stint as the Phantom of the Opera years back.
Writer and director Dean DeBlois successfully tells us a story that is mature with a generally dark mood, with very serious themes of family, loyalty, selflessness and heroism. There will be tears, so get ready for that. For the very young kids, count on Dreamworks to spice things up with some comic moments with foolish kiddie pranks and cute dragon babies though. Overall this is one big emotional roller-coaster ride -- so fun and entertaining, yet complete with important lessons in life for all ages. 9/10.