Wonder why it took DreamWorks Animation a good 4 years to get back Viking lad Hiccup and his aerial buddy Toothless to the animated skies of 3D-dom. It would seem the studio had its creators working their tails off - and all that hard work has paid off, no doubt there!
Sequels are tricky beasts that can go haywire, much like dragons themselves. One wrong turn and you have to crash land (Hiccup and Toothless know the pain). Fortunately, this second chapter keeps the fire alive and burning, so much so that it overtakes its predecessor, stoking the story and characters to new, smoky heights.
Originally based on Cressida Cowell's children's book, the first How To Train Your Dragon
, directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, caught the imagination of children with its sure-shot hit formula of an unlikely friendship between an oddball and an impetuous reptile.
It showcased Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), son of the chieftain, a gangly, goofy youngster reluctant to kill, winning over the trust of the dreaded dragon, Night Fury. He showed his people that slaying these misunderstood creatures was a colossal blunder. Predictably, the warrior clan of Vikings ate humble pie, and the village transformed into a harmonious haven for both humans and dragons.
The opening shot of the sequel swoops you down to the rocky island of Berk, bang in the middle of a Quidditch-style, dragon-racing match, with dragons for brooms and frazzled sheep for balls. It refreshes your memory, quickly putting name to face, though primarily it is a feast for your goggled-eyes. The film's strong suit is its sweeping visuals, confident in graphics, hue and texture, where the landscape and the characters engage with each other in an optically stunning depiction.
DeBois' latest takes you into new territory, both in terms of geographical space and narratorial voice. Hiccup is still finding himself, and his ceaseless search for unmapped lands becomes a metaphorical search for his own self. He rejects violence in any form, depending instead on his powers of persuasion.
You are immediately immersed into adventure and action as Hiccup and Toothless (the bond between the two is rock-hard), and his young friends, find themselves at the edge of an imminent battle. They come across dragon trappers Valka (Cate Blanchett - a mysterious dragon rider) and the fierce Viking exile Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) - more like Bloodfist, if you ask us. There is a deluge of new dragon species, some cute and some creepy.
The sequel possesses greater emotional depth than the first, and mysteries unravel with intriguing characters like Valka, the guardian angel of dragons. But the makers always stop short of taking the narrative to the deeper end of the narrative pool. There are moments where you feel that a monetary predilection overtakes a potentially good story. They are selling action, after all.
Just like the dragons that switch from being lovable, face-licking pets to vicious, teeth-baring beasts of destruction, the film switches between a children's animated romp and a more mature account appealing to adults. The occasional parental-arm-around-the-shoulder is a good idea - this one has an intimidating villain and a ginormous dragon called Bewilderbeast.
Ultimately, How To Train Your Dragon - 2 is firmly an adventure ride for kids. The air-borne sequences are spectacular and will have young eyes popping with delight. The fledging hero and his posse soar and dive through thick, woolly clouds, skimming bottomless oceans and winning hearts - that is what this film is all about.
Every kid should go see this one, and you should go along for the warm, fuzzy ride. Indeed, this one is "How To Gain Brownie Points With A Young One"!