The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

Di­rected by Dean DeBlois. Voices of Jay Baruchel, Ger­ard But­ler, Craig Fer­gu­son, Amer­ica Fer­rera, Jonah Hill, Christo­pher Mintz-Plasse, Kris­ten Wiig, Cate Blanchett, Dji­mon Houn­sou

PG cert, 101 min Grown men. Tiny girls. Myth­i­cal crea­tures. Who doesn’t love How to Train Your Dragon? The hit 2010 an­i­ma­tion marked a wel­come sea change for its par­ent com­pany, Dreamworks. The te­dious snark and pop cul­ture ref­er­ences that pock­marked such lesser out­ings as Shark Tale and Bee Movie were su­per­seded by proper char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and gen­uine heart. The crude if fun CG that had once de­fined the stu­dio’s out­put was gone. The House that Shrek built was fi­nally ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing with the House of Mouse, in­clud­ing its Pixar di­vi­sion.

These tech­ni­cal ad­vances con­tinue into this lovely se­quel, which opens with a swoop­ing, div­ing dragon drag race pre­sented in glo­ri­ous (as op­posed to op­por­tunis­ti­cally tacked-on) 3D.

The Dragon tril­ogy – all go­ing well, part three in on the way – is based on a se­ries of pop­u­lar, quirky books by Bri­tish au­thor Cres­sida Cow­ell and, as with Shrek, there’s a lurk­ing Celtic theme. Ger­ard But­ler gets to be über-Scot­tish as Sto­ick the Vast, the chief­tain of the Vik­ing tribe and fa­ther of un­likely hero Hic­cup (Jay Baruchel). They’re joined by Craig Fer­gu­son and Cate Blanchett, who drops vow­els and goes Gaelic as reclu­sive vig­i­lante Valka, the drag­on­sphere’s an­swer to Diane Fossey.

Hav­ing made peace with dragon-kind, Hic­cup and his beloved dragon Tooth­less must now face Drago Blud­vist (Dji­mon Houn­sou), a ma­raud­ing dragon hunter hell­bent on world dom­i­na­tion. There’s also Drago’s re­luc­tant min­ion, Eret (Kit Har­ing­ton) to con­sider. Hic­cup is as­sisted, as ever, by his brave fiancee Astrid (Amer­ica Fer­rera) and as­sorted goof­ball chums.

Game of What? This is our new desert is­land dragon-themed pop pick. It’s not just that Tooth­less is 10 kinds of adorable, or that the fe­male char­ac­ters are gen­uinely brave rather than merely feisty. Dragon 2 has the heart of a prop­erly Ice­landic saga: ex­pect tragedy, tri­umph and comic re­lief as ri­val dragon ar­madas go to war.

Roger Deakins, the Coen Broth­ers’ reg­u­lar DOP, acted as a vis­ual con­sul­tant for the project and it shows. Dragon 2 feels like a proper film, not just a cartoon. Com­poser John Pow­ell, whose score for the first film earned an Os­car, adds to that ef­fect. There’s fire in this fran­chise’s belly yet.

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