'How to Train Your Dragon 2': What the Critics Are Saying

5:30 AM PST 06/13/2014 by Ashley Lee

The Dreamworks Animation sequel, directed by Dean DeBlois, rounds up a voice cast featuring Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Kit Harington.

How to Train Your Dragon 2, out Friday, rounds up a voice cast featuring Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Kristen WiigKit Harington, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill, directed once again by Dean DeBlois.

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Box-office observers predict that the DreamWorks Animation sequel to the 2010 film—based on the Cressida Cowell books about a dragon rider and his pet—will open in the $55 million to $60 million range over Father's Day weekend, thanks to its status as the summer's first animated family feature.

Read what top critics are saying about How to Train Your Dragon 2:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Leslie Felperin writes that the sequel "has ladled on even more expensive state-of-the-art animation and stereoscopy technology, an elaborate script that expands its fantasy world further, oodles of action set pieces, and a dragon cast of thousands. ... Although ultimately this installment, despite its breath-sucking spectacle, is sometimes more of a taxing assault course than a playful training session ... crowded with incident, frame-edge details and extra characters."

She notes that the film is "considerably scarier and more traumatic to boot, it may all prove a little too rich for the youngest of filmgoers," as it felt "retooled for a tween audience given the new emphasis on romantic relationships." Still, "there's no gainsaying the film's technical achievement."

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The New York Times' Stephen Holden observes that "because [Deblois] makes more of his films' allegorical implications than most creators of toons, the movie nudges you to consider its subtext" about war and peace. Still, the sequel is "more self-aware" than the original: "In places, Dragon 2 is almost too fast to keep up with, and, in other places, it's a little too dark, at least in 3-D. The spectacle quotient has been increased exponentially, and you are keenly aware of the divisions between its adagio and allegro passages. Its thundering air-war sequences, with hordes of dragon-riding fighters swarming into battle, have the swooping, gliding kineticism of vintage newsreels of World War II dogfights."

Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey summarizes that "the film is essentially chasing the tale of what happens when one leaves the nest." Of the voice cast, "Blanchett and Butler are particularly good playing off of each other," and "the animation is crisper than ever. ... The dragons come in more colors, shapes and sizes than people. Most of the best effects capture the beasties in flight. It's a rip-roaring ride." Yet "what set the first Dragon apart, and what DeBlois has deepened in No. 2, is the film's emotional core. Though there are moments when the tension goes slack, the cast steps up to keep things afloat."

The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry notes that the film is truly "a riveting, moving and beautifully animated film" that "shows sequel-makers how to do it right." It "is brimming with action while remaining mercifully straightforward. The undoing of many a sequel lies in its insistence on introducing multiple enemies to up the ante. There's none of that here. Meanwhile, the movie manages to tackle themes of growing up and finding independence; coming to terms with one's heritage; forgiveness; and how to properly care for a pet."

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The Boston Globe's Tom Russo says that DeBlois, who has said he wants this film to be his Empire Strikes Back, "aims to layer on more poignancy for Baruchel and his castmates to play. At points, we're left feeling a little detached. ... Nothing in this likable sequel flies quite so high as those aerial shots." Still, "more than ever, these magical 3D visuals feel like a Blue Angels routine customized for the Tolkien crowd."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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