HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
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 The tedious snark and pop culture references that pockmarked such lesser outings as Shark Tale and Bee Movie were superseded by proper characterisation and genuine heart.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.