How To Train Your Dragon 2

Animation today is a wondrous art form, and it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by its technical achievements, by the way in which it can so cleanly and effortlessly transport the viewer into a fantasy world.

But as often as not, almost as an aside, it will be a minor detail that catches the eye and sells the larger vision. Such was the case for me in this fab movie when I noticed the stubble on the chin of twenty-year-old Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) – it made him so much more human.

Dragon 1 (2010) was a coming-of-age tale in which the misfit Hiccup needed to assert his own personality, in conflict though it may have been with his status, on the island of Berk, as the son of the brawny chieftain Stoick (Gerard Butler). He did so by taming a feared dragon, Toothless, at the same time as he fell in love with the cute tomboy Astrid (America Ferrera).

For his troubles, Hiccup ended up with a prosthetic leg, which made a neat pair with the false wing that he had made for Toothless.

The sequel follows the unlikely prince as he moves inexorably towards the fulfilment of his destiny. In order that this be achieved, Hiccup goes into battle with Drago (Djimon Hounsou) after discovering the identity of the mysterious Valka (Cate Blanchett).

The shift in emphasis means that there is less involvement from Astrid, which is a great shame, and more time given to the looming conflict with Drago – it is good versus evil with little ground in between, resulting in a story that lacks the original’s sense and sensibility.

Not that there is not room for a dollop of genuine sentiment, laid on with a trowel in a burial scene of intense poignancy.

The drawings are brilliant – every tiny part moves – and the relationships are all believable, none more so than that between Hiccup and Toothless (a boy and his dog). Unfortunately, the triumphalism at the end makes tawdry the adventure that preceded it.

~ John Campbell

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