Movie Review - How to Train Your Dragon 2

Similarly observed with Kung Fu Panda 2, the animation is at times photo-realistic. The opening shot is aerials of a village on the edge of some cliff and looks as if writer-director Dean DeBlois flew to northern Europe and actually filmed these images. The illusion is shattered once characters are introduced. It's not simply the cartoon sheep who get bounced up in the air like volleyballs that take the suspension of disbelief. It's the so-called human characters who still feel like mold-able clay than anything else, but there's one exception. A close-up of a flexing bicep conveys the perception of real flesh, as also the desire for real flesh.

Story-wise, the narrative picks up five years after the events of the previous film. Vikings live in harmony with dragons. They work and play together. Vikings in particular have harnessed dragons, much in the same way humans have harnessed horses. Besides being able to breath fire, the main difference is the ability to fly. The opening sequence as well as subsequent ones express the joy and liberation of flight. DeBlois wants to transfer that liberation and that exhilaration to the viewer.

The protagonist and narrator is again Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel. He's the son of a Viking chief named Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler. Stoick wants Hiccup to be his successor when he retires as chief soon, but Hiccup would rather explore and map the world on the back of his dragon named Toothless. To Hiccup, Toothless isn't just a horse. There's a symbiotic relationship. Because of the events of the previous film, the two need each other and have developed a special bond.

The lesson learned in that previous film is carried over here. That lesson involves how we choose to handle those whom we perceive as our enemy. Instead of fortifying or continuing to pick up weapons, Hiccup's solution to a potential enemy is talking and negotiation. He doesn't run away. He doesn't want to fight. He wants peace and the best way is through dialogue and by reaching out to your potential enemy with an open palm, rather than raising a fist.

Hiccup wants to win hearts and minds. He doesn't necessarily want to win physical battles. He also proves that if you're facing off against a group, it helps to have friends or sympathizers within that group. This might not work against all enemies, but he's commendable for taking this position and never compromising.

As is the case with sequels, the stakes have to be raised. With a movie about dragons, DeBlois accomplishes this by introducing bigger and meaner dragons. Given this movie follows the recent release of Godzilla (2014), some might be unimpressed with the godzilla-like dragon, known as the alpha or the wildebeast. The fact that it can breathe ice instead of fire is never utilized to its full potential.

There's a sense of envy. Two characters in particular dress like dragons and behave like them. It perhaps speaks to the idea that friendship and compassion require an adoption of the others traits. Clich├ęs like "When in Rome..." or "Walk a mile in another man's shoes..." could be thrown out, but what is at the core here is understanding and finding the similarities between us, even if they're similarities we create.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins. 

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