Mother of Dragons – ★★★★
Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the first “school summer holidays” film set for release this year. It’s arriving on Irish screens a full two weeks before making its bow across the Irish Sea, perhaps as a tactic to pull parents in on the first week before summer camps kick in. Good news then as it’s actually pretty damn good.
Back in 2010 the first How to Train Your Dragon seemed to come out of nowhere, directed by the team of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, it went on to become one of the year’s best reviewed films and would have comfortably won the Oscar for Animated Feature if it wasn’t up against the might of Pixar and Toy Story 3.
DeBlois is now flying solo (sorry) for the sequel which brings back most of the original’s voice crew (big breath – Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig) and also adds the talents of Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington. Baruchel voices Hiccup, a dragon master to Toothless who is feeling the weight of his father’s expectations to take over as ruler of the land of Berk. He stumbles upon an old ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and a mysterious new Dragon Rider (Cate Blanchett).
The film is a children’s adventure and as such should be i) suitable for children and ii) super exciting. It passes both tests with flying colours (again, sorry) and while it’s a little too old-fashioned to leave itself open to much positive feminist appraisal in the way that Frozen or Brave did, it still features enough strong character role models that you wouldn’t feel bad recommending it. Hiccup is someone who you’d be happy for your 10-year-old to aspire to be and Baruchel’s voice work lends him a real everyman kind of appeal.
While all the flying sequences are beautifully designed, the animation doesn’t really knock your socks off in the way you may have hoped and the style is all a little cutesy. Aside from the Dragon Rider, there are very few memorable character designs in here. You wonder whether Dreamworks is more deadline-focused than Disney or Pixar, not allowing its design team the time to really come up with fresh and exciting ideas.
However despite these small qualms, as a movie to entertain giddy kids while also giving their parents something to enjoy, there won’t be many better options on screens this year.
Released across Ireland on June 27th 2014