Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean Dublois)

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Ah, Berk. That fictional far away land where Dragons once plagued humans, until a young boy made friends with a Night Fury and changed everything.

How I’ve missed this place.

Fox & Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 brings us back to its dragon riding fun, taking place 5 years after the events of the first film. While the story doesn’t have the same level of depth as say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it still manages to be an enjoyable thrill ride when the dragons are taking flight.

Since this is an animated feature, let’s do visuals first. The animation is roughly the same as the original, with a bit of aging here and there for the main characters, but both the colors and the depth of field are a major standout. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) was brought back on board as  a consultant for the lighting, focus and color tones and it definitely shows. If at all possible, this film should be seen in its 3D format. The flight sequences are a joy to behold and when they’re not flying, you shouldn’t find yourself squinting and pinching your nose too much. Chris Sanders wasn’t on hand this time for the writing and directing, although you can still see his designs all over the film.

Additionally, there were a number of technical changes that improved the process. Just as Pixar did with Renderman, Dreamworks ended up creating their own software, Apollo. Apollo uses two tools – Premo, which allowed the animators better control of characters through the use of Wacom tablets. Even more magical is Torch, a lighting system developed with Deakins’ assistance that allowed for more natural setups in animation. One of the best uses of this is when Hiccup is surrounded in a dark room and needs to use his sword to illuminate the area. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s used in other Dreamworks projects.

All of the familiar characters are back – Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is a little older, and much wiser than in the original, with he and Toothless mapping the lands around Berk during their flights. Hiccup’s flair for gadgetry hasn’t left him, as in this film, the character is introduced almost as a medieval Batman. Between he, his father Stoic (Gerald Butler) and his girlfriend / Dragon Racing Champion Astrid (America Ferrera), they get the bulk of the screen time. His friends, played by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse,  and Kristen Wiig, felt more like cameos than anything else here. Then again, they really didn’t have that great a part in the first film. Toothless, the Unholy Offspring of fire and darkness itself, is still as cuddly and emotive as ever, despite not being able to actually speak. Through the film, both Toothless and Hiccup find themselves growing up in different ways and their relationship is at the heart of everything here. Hiccup and Stoic still have family issues, this time centering around Hiccup preparation for becoming Chief of the town after Stoic steps down.

When Astrid and Hiccup discover dragon hunters (Lead by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose character here still knows nothing), they find a new evil on the horizon in the form of Drago (Guardians of the Galaxy and Blood Diamond’s Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army to do some harm.

Where the movie may stumble is in its last act. It felt abbreviated to me, but as this is meant for children, I suppose it’s not meant to be that long of a film. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it moves fast. For a kid’s film, Dragon 2 rises to some interesting heights that even adults would appreciate. The film doesn’t assume you need to be retold everything you may have missed in the first film, though it does reference some elements of it. The themes of the story are coexistence (between humans & dragons), leadership, friendship and family, and they’re done well.

Trailer: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Teaser)


Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was one of those films for 2010 that caught me completely off-guard. I had dismissed it as another Dreamworks attempt to try and take the crown from Pixar. So, it was quite a surprise when I finally saw it and realized that Dreamworks had out-Pixared Pixar with this latest offering.

The film did great in the box-office and made the names Hiccup and Toothless names to remember fondly. So, it was a given that a sequel was going to be made and now it is 2013 and we finally have the first teaser trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2 which will splash across all big-screen theaters around 2014.

To say that this teaser trailer evoked all the fun of the original would be an understatement. I would say that this simple teaser showing Toothless just flying around with Hiccup gave a better sense of the joy of flying than this year’s Man of Steel.

Quick Review: Winnie the Pooh (dir. by Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall)

With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 running at full steam, and Captain America: The First Avenger opening this weekend, Winnie the Pooh still remains an option for younger kids who may not be ready for these two films (at least until The Smurfs is released). There’s really very little in the way of negative comments that I can give to Winnie the Pooh, expect perhaps that running at just 69 minutes, it’s very short. It’s for kids.

Working off the original story by A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh re-introduces us to the title character, along with his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood – Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet,  Kanga and her son Roo, Owl, and Eeyore. They are the treasured toys of Christopher Robin, who has an active imagination.

One of the cute elements of this story, narrated by John Cleese is how everyone breaks the fourth wall and occasionally has interactions with the paragraphs of the story. Stepping on a few words here, using a few as a ladder, it came across as being quite worthy of a few smiles.

I used to watch “The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” on Saturday Mornings, and it was a treat to return to these characters. For the movie, we are given the “Busy Backson” story, where Eeyore has lost his tail and the team come up with ideas on new and interesting ones for him. Each character has their own way of figuring this out. Of course, Pooh has something of a difficult time with his constantly rumbling tummy, but he manages to help in his own way. In their search, Owl misreads a note left behind by Christopher Robin stating that he’ll be busy, but will be back soon. This conjures up the great and terrible “Backson” in everyone’s imagination, responsible for everything from stealing your left socks to making your milk spoil. The team decides to set a trap for the Backson, with wild results. The scenes with the Backson maybe a little frightening to the youngest of viewers, but it’s not that bad. We’re not dealing with Heffalumps or Woozles here.

In the end, as always, everything turns out well. I liked that Friendship was the big factor here. All of Eyeore’s friends tried to help him find his tail, and Pooh even puts his honey chasing ways on hold (as best he can, anyway) to aid his friend. Those familiar with the animated series will instantly recognize Jim Cummings as the voice of both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. I would have liked to have seen Peter Cullen come back as Eyeore, but he was pretty busy voicing Optimus Prime while the movie was being made. All of the other voice actors are new, including late night tv host Craig Ferguson as Owl. The kids won’t even care.

Musically, there are a few interesting songs. Actress / Singer Zooey Deschanel lends her voice to the title song, along with a few others. Most of the other songs are sung by the cast themselves, and the kids may find themselves singing along (at least I could hear singing in my audience, anyway). The film moves fast, extremely fast. By the time the antsy factor kicks in, the movie’s done, which makes that a treat by itself.

Overall, Winnie the Pooh may not have the magnificence of say a Kung Fu Panda 2 or How to Train Your Dragon, but for very young viewers, it should do just the trick.