Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

     Guys. I went to my first party that somehow drew the attention of a police helicopter. I think that alone can make any night exciting and worth having. I say this because although the every other part of my day/night was pretty much boring, I'll still refer to it in stories for years to come. That helicopter reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. No, no, that's a terrible transition. How about: watching that World Cup Final flying back and forth reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see... No. To be honest, theres no good transition, because this was very impromptu. A sunday night movie with a friend. I ditched my dad for the third night in a row, which normally I wouldn't feel bad about, but in this case, he's had nobody to hang with (my mom has been on a "girlfriends' retreat"). So, yeah. Also, just saying, no matter what type of movie watcher you are, if you don't take a moment every so often to see an uplifting animated movie, then you're a monster.
    Dragon 2. Behind the beautifully fluid animation lies multiple serious undertones that I can imagine would resonate with kids from pre teens to young adults. Concepts like abandonment, coming of age, and the loss of a loved one offer plenty to think about and bring a sense of maturity to the film, but are well balanced with playful writing and beautiful scenes. What I was most impressed with was how they continued the story line after the first movie. In some cases, a sequel's plot can seem forced and confusing, but writer and director Dean DeBlois created a seamless transition. I really like how now, with the help of the dragons, the citizens of Berk thrive and our protagonist, Hiccup, has begun to explore and map out uncharted territories. Hiccup, along with the rest of his friends from the first movie, have all grown up a bit, donning the preview of facial hair and a bit deeper of voices. But Hiccup is a troubled soul. On top of his mommy issues, he now anxiously anticipates his inauguration into chiefhood. This struggle is similar to the one he faces in Dragon 1, in the sense that he feels pressured to be like his "perfect Dad", but doesn't know how. But with the help of his friends and the reunion of his father and long lost mother, Hiccup becomes the man he was meant to be, although in a rather cliche manner.

The Alpha next to Hiccup and Valka
    The movie's message comes across clearly and cleverly, but wouldn't keep the attention of the kids without magnificent visuals and malevolent baddies. Animation never ceases to amaze me, with its ever increasing potential for greatness. Each wide shot more stunning than the one before, and the capability to capture epic scale warfare. Each flying scene blew the audience away, really taking us through the scares and pleasures of what Hiccup must have been feeling. And during one of the more intense periods, we get a real treat: a dragon sanctuary with a magnificent alpha dragon at its center. Scenes like these are, at least for me, what really draw me in to see animations.

    Aditionally, if you think for a second that an animated flick will be short of stars, think again. The movie stars Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League, This is the End). Baruchel is annoying to say the least, but very fitting to his character, and with any other voice, Hiccup would lose his genuine nature. Aside Baruchel are big names such as Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, McLovin, Jon Snow, and Kristen Wiig, among others. Chances are, if you think you recognize the voice of one of the characters, you probably actually do. These actors arent just a big clump of names put together, either. They really blended well in Dragon 2, providing one liners and hilarious banter left and right. Christopher Mintz-Platz and Jonah Hill battle over the heart of Kristen Wiig, all while her twin brother, T.J. Miller (She's Out of My League, Silicon Valley) jabs at the both of them. And all of these lovable characters really come together, as a display of teamwork ends up being the only thing to get them out of tough situations.

     Dragon 2 also tried to tackle some pretty tough subjects, especially for a kids movie: strong female roles, and the death of a father/main character. It succeeds with one of the two. Stoic, Hiccup's father, plays a role ambiguous enough to resemble many fathers out there—strong, protective, supportive, but with high expectations. We love him for his humor and for his love for Hiccup. But then the Dreamworks studio does what hasn't been done for a long time: (SPOILER ALERT) they kill Stoic. This was a complete shock to everyone, there was no foreshadowing leading up to this event, this was not an inevitable demise. It tore at my emotions, and yet, I loved it.
Just look at that armor damn... Statue of Liberty meets
Infinity Blade
This relatively small gesture did wonders to chip at the veil media has held over children's eyes. This type of thing was a bit more common years ago, with deaths like Mufasa's, and Bambi's mother, and real scary scenes like those in Snow White and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Stoic's death isn't going to start any sort of revolution, but I am glad to see a step away from overly sugar-coating children's movies. Now, onto the strong female roles. As seen in Disney's Frozen, the era of charming prince saving princess is losing grasp, and girls now have stronger characters to look up to. I think DeBlois tried to do something like this in Dragon 2. He establishes two pretty perfect candidates, the strong of mind and body Astrid (s/o to Asterix comic), voiced by America Ferrera, and the mysteriously powerful Valka, voiced by Blanchett. Astrid, a girl Hiccups age, continuously shows her prowess on the back of a dragon, beating out all the boys during competitions. However, when it comes down to the real battle scenes, she does little to contribute to the outcome, and she is reduced to yelling "go get em' babe!" to Hiccup. She even had the potential to become chief, as Hiccup was apprehensive at first, but that never materialized. I really thought they had it with Hiccup's mom, Valka. She seemed so badass upon first meeting, a masked mystery-man-turned-woman. She knew all the dragon tricks, and was an inhabitant of the epic dragon sanctuary. But, when it counted, she disappointed, just like Astrid. I think it was a solid attempt to bring something new to the table, but in the end it failed. But, besides that, How to Train Your Dragon 2 succeeded as a sequel, and as a movie itself, building upon past concepts while bringing forth original and worthwhile new ones. Go see it.

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