Magazine article Variety

'Dragon 2' Breathes Fire into Franchise

Magazine article Variety

'Dragon 2' Breathes Fire into Franchise

Article excerpt

'Dragon 2' Breathes Fire Into Franchise

If you think training vikings to coexist with dragons sounds tough, try following up an iconic coming-of-age story within the halls of a publicly traded animation studio. The pressures to make a giant four-quadrant monstrosity must be enormous, and yet, like his unflappable hero Hiccup, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" writer-director Dean DeBlois has prevailed, serving up DreamWorks Animation's strongest sequel yet - one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original. Braver than "Brave," more fun than "Frozen" and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, "Dragon" delivers. And good thing, too, since DWA desperately needs another toon to cross the half-billion-dollar threshold.

Set five years after the previous story ends, this latest adventure vastly expands the world and characters suggested by Cressida Cowell's YA book series, which informed the spirit, if not necessarily the plot, of the 2011 film. Once an awkward teen, Hiccup has grown into a handsome young man (though his voice, still supplied by Jay Baruchel, is as warbly as ever), set to succeed his father (Gerard Butler) as chief of Berk. But too many experiences remain, compelling the thrill-seeking lad to spend every free moment away from the tribe, drawn to whatever lies beyond the edges of his map.

For the benefit of newcomers, Hiccup narrates a high-energy opening sequence that, like the matching epilogue, seems at odds with the rest of the pic's sensibility, which, as a rule, respects the audience's intelligence. These two scenes reunite Hiccup's rowdy classmates - Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher MintzPlasse), Tuffnutt (T.J. Miller) and twin sister Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) - for a dragon-racing derby, a sport that looks like a cross between Quidditch and pod-racing (a la "Phantom Menace") and was surely invented to appeal to the same demographic.

As usual, it's resident tomboy Astrid (America Ferrera) who wins, while Hiccup, now her b.f., is again off exploring with his dragon, Toothless. Clearly, Viking society has taken a significant turn since last we saw it. Now, instead of waging battle with flying reptiles, the residents of Berk spend their time putting out fires (literally). After all, the primary drawback of being besties with beasties is that these exotic pets have certain combustible qualities.

As it turns out, not all dragons breathe fire, something Hiccup and Astrid discover when they chance upon a manmade fort frozen in shards of green ice - the handiwork of something called a Bewilderbeast, just one of many previously undiscovered new species. Compared with the movie's other badly designed, barely aerodynamic dragons, this awesome lumbering creature looks like it might have been dreamed up by H.P. Lovecraft himself, single-handedly reintroducing the idea of intimidation into the dynamic between men and dragons.

However fearsome this so-called "king of all dragons" might be, it's men that Hiccup and his kind ultimately have to worry about, for he who controls the alpha dragon controls them all. This development represents perhaps the biggest variation from the admirably villain-free original, in which the conflict resulted from ignorance and superstition, rather than the machinations of a power-hungry meanie. Where the first "Dragon" was a high-flying riff on "Black Beauty," the sequel shifts genres entirely, escalating to a full-blown war movie that pits Hiccup against a dragon hunter named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou).

Just as Hiccup has aged, so too has the target audience for the new film, which is dark enough to satisfy the "Game of Thrones" crowd without alienating kids along the way. …

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