FAMILY NIGHT AT THE MOVIE –
By Christopher Hill
Cartoon movies used to be a child medium targeting wide-eyed youth with less discriminating tastes than their eye-rolling guardians. No longer. The past two decades have shown a multitude of films providing as much enjoyment to the kids as the adults who take them. Revenues from these films put the studios on notice. Where there used to be a handful of cartoon films a year, now it’s a summer swarm.
The challenge used to be finding a film that was visually enjoyable to keep youths engaged while providing just enough over-the-head humor to engage their elders. Now, in addition to those requirements, the story must be unique enough to stand out in a crowded field. Four years ago, Dreamworks Animation discovered that trinity after loosely adapting the British book series How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Their movie by the same name was a blockbuster earning critical acclaim and almost $500 million worldwide.
The sequel is the uniquely named How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first story centered on the town of Berk, their battles against dragon attacks and a boy’s discovery and eventual befriending of a rare Night Terror Dragon. Eventually, the pair save their village and provide an olive branch between dragons and the town.
The follow-up brings us five years in the future, and the integration experiment is a full on success. The dragons are full members of the town and all seem better for the change.
The boy, Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is again with his dragon friend named Toothless, exploring and mapping beyond their world. They discover dragon hunters who work for a mad conqueror named Drago Bludvist. Knowing this hoard will find Berk, they seek a way to end an eventual conflict. In so doing, they find a Dragon haven organized by Hiccup’s long thought deceased mother Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett.
The movie brings a story with an expected outcome but a unique path getting there. Adult themes of abandonment and loss provide an interesting narrative to what is really a coming of age story. Perhaps most impressive in the writing is their avoidance of clichés concerning the protagonist’s physical limitations.
In the first film, Hiccup befriends Toothless by creating a mechanical harness to help the injured dragon fly. Later in the film, Hiccup loses his own leg and must rely on Toothless for support. How to Train Your Dragon 2 shows their ailment but showcases their ability to move forward. At no point do their noted differences endanger their capability to save their village. It would have been an easy plot point that the disciplined writers avoided to their credit.
This is a truly a “Family Night at the Movies” film. Absolutely amazing animation showcases an incredible depth of field as you truly find yourself immersed in their world. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a visual treat that leaves a solid aftertaste. Strong writing, delivered well with enough humor for the entire family to feast on.
Violence: Cartoon based, but there is a dramatic loss.
Now Showing: In Local Theaters
MPAA Rating: PG