How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) (PG)

I should like to make this disclaimer before I get into the thick of things: I usually hold my SPOILER warning in check unless I spoil something that's not in the trailer for the movie. Unfortunately, the entire movie is contained within the trailer of "How to Train Your Dragon 2" if you've seen the commercial, read on—if not, think twice.
I was and am a huge fan of the original "How to Train Your Dragon" and like many others was not looking forward to the sequel in a year that exceeds only is belaboring series that make studios money. So let me get all my negative stuff out of the way first and foremost: "How to Train Your Dragon 2" isn't as good as the original. Some of the joy of the first movie was the sarcastic narration and discovery of a new world...well, this movie takes itself more seriously and that is both its glory and its downfall. The script has some huge issues that range from simple plot holes to glaring dialogue issues. One of the key features of the original was John Powell's glorious score, and here it's not up to snuff. We get a brief hipster song and some refrains from the first movie; but the theme builds up by the end, so that placated me. Powell is good, but he reached his peak with the first movie. The bad guy is also not that great because his motive is so trite as almost to be transparent. World domination? Really? He's not convincing. So parts of it are corny, awkward, and it doesn't flow as nicely as the first.
That's the bad....
The good is that "Dragon 2" is a sensational film and not for its dragons, for its animation, for its special effects, or for its voice's great because of its characters. This is a movie that saw the rise of the cheap blockbuster and the internet obsession of "Game of Thrones" in between its predecessor and itself. Those influences are clear to see, but Dean DeBlois (who also wrote "Mulan" and directed "Lilo & Stitch" and the first "Dragon" movie) makes "Dragon 2" solely about its characters and this makes it an anomaly in the children's animation genre.
Let me do a quick plot synopsis: It's five years after the close of the first movie and the vikings are quite content. They live life peacefully with the dragons now, but there is trouble brewing. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless are experimenting with flying when the stumble across a mysterious sight. Accompanied by his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera), Hiccup goes to explore and finds a group of dragon catchers, led by a young man named Eret (Kit Harington aka Jon Snow). Eret explains that all dragons must be captured and taken back to the dragon rider and supreme dictator Drago (or...Khal Drogo?...the "Game of Thrones" references are almost too much here—voiced by Djimon Hounsou). After stumbling across the plot to rule the world with the aid of dragons (again, for no apparent reason), Hiccup decides that it must be up to him to confront this Drago and change his mind. Hiccup trusts his own negotiation skills very greatly. En route, Hiccup bumps into a mysterious dragon master/warrior queen...and the rest, they say, is history.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is so hyper sensitive with all its characters that it borders the line between animation and live-action better than any movie I've ever seen. Though some characters are poorly animated, the larger sequences and the majority of the movie is so flawless that it rivals and surpasses everything done in the past, including any Pixar movie and anything Disney has done.
The family dynamic is something that kids' movies have tried to nail down for a while; but here we have a clear winner. "Frozen" tried, "Brave" got it right; yet "Dragon 2" blows both out of the water. In fact, every relationship here is staggeringly genuine. That's why "Dragon 2" is stunning. Amidst the dragon battles and the possible drinking games you could play (How to Drain Your Flagon—take nine shots every time you see a dragon), "Dragon 2" is an art house movie and that is something I find most curious. It is grossly severe which will please its adult audience and it also contains fart jokes for the younger crowd. It is one of the few kids' movies that actually gives loss of life its proper severity.
"Dragon 2" excels with its characters, even if their lines aren't always perfect. It is so grounded in the thought behind each one that it defines them with outward characteristics. It does this so well, that I caught myself thinking which characters were good actors. You believe in the humanity of the people, even while they are flying on the backs of dragons, and that is a feat grander than anything I've seen in a while.
There are dazzling sequences here and if "Dragon 2" wanted to be defiantly plotless or meander as a Malick film, it would have been perfect; yet the plot is needed and is where it suffers.
The animalistic, friendliness of the dragons is captured perfectly and this time they seem both more like feral animals and more like a human counterpart. They are seen in this movie as naive and trusting, stupid even.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" has a good cast, a good story, and a good execution. It was a short burst of flames away from being perfect; but you can't fault it for trying as valiantly as it did to make us love the people more than their scaly friends.

Score: ★★★½

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