Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with my thoughts on the latest animated adventure from director Dean DeBlois (LILO & STITCH). Despite being a 28 year old guy who watches horror flicks religiously, I actually did go check out the first film while it was in theaters. I enjoyed the first film as it had a little bit of something for everyone and packed some solid laughs. So with that in mind and knowing the same folks were back for another go - I was genuinely curious/excited to see what they would whip up for a sequel. "Is this another cash grab style animated churned out soulless flick intended to sell plush toys and stock Happy Meals with cheap plastic goodness?" - or - "Is this a genuine next chapter in a much bigger story, something that builds upon the universe presented in the first film?" It's got to be one or the other, right? Thank heavens it's the latter. Before I dip into a little more detail, I'll go ahead and drop my immediate reaction as I walked out of the screening on you fine folks: This is THE DARK KNIGHT of kids movies. (I mean that in the best possible way). It's a respectful continuation of the film before it, something that expands the world vs. cannibalizing it for cash.
Boom! The screen lights up and instantly you're thrust into a lovely action packed zip-zap dragons flying all around reminder of how fun the first movie ended up being. (I don't do spoilers/play by plays, so lo siento if that's what you're looking for here.) We find Hiccup, once again voiced by Jay Buruchel, at a cross roads. He's dying to do one thing, follow one path, while familial obligations seem to want to push him in another. He's dealing with something I think all of us can relate to, especially at Hiccup's age (roughly 19/20). Do we follow in our parent's footsteps or do we make our own footsteps and tackle our own unique paths? This is a theme that was explored rather thoroughly in the first film, but like any big themes worth exploring - this one carries over, with just as much weight here in the sequel.
I can't not mention "Toothless," the giant ball of puppy love who's story almost parallels that of Hiccup's. It's your classic, stepping up of your hero. It's the scrawny kid from Tatooine who is pushed, pulled, and thrown into incredible situations where he has to dig deep and find his inner strength in order to defeat the impossible. That can genuinely be found in both Hiccup and Toothless, the only difference being Toothless just melts your heart in the process. While he does get some what of an upgrade in the film, those big eyes, and giant slobbering tongue are the end results of a ton of animators who all have pets. There's a playfulness that is insanely relatable. If you leave the film not wanting to throw the ball around/play fetch with your pooch, then there's something wrong with you. They've nailed the ability to give this digitally rendered thing emotions and expressions that tickle your heart strings, even if - like me - you're not really a kids movie kind of guy to begin with.
While the film really does revolve around Hiccup and Toothless, the original gang of Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiiig, etc... never feels forced. It felt like a great ensemble where they all share the same amount of funny, which was pretty refreshing. I thought for sure Jonah Hill... Sorry, *Oscar Nominated Jonah Hill* might muscle a little bit more of the limelight, but honestly he didn't. The supporting characters are just that, and the addition of Kit Harington into the mix was a fun bit of flavor - a straight man for these comedians to bounce jokes off of. The scenes with the gang/friends all have a real "hot potatoe" feel with the comedy.
In terms of this being a kids movie, it's a damn fine one at that. It's packed to the brim with themes about overcoming bullies, thinking for yourself, doing what's right, dealing with the loss of a loved one, proper pet ownership... and it ought to carry an even more special meaning for children stricken with physical disabilities given our hero's got a prosthetic leg. Don't get me wrong, the film's not 100% perfect in every way (what film is?). This one has a little bit of a gut punch to your emotions that... while, yes, it did its job - it ultimately felt a tad forced upon reflection. And while I'm thinking "man, kiddos are going to eat this up," and they should, it's almost like a healthy smoothy... kids love them and they're full of vitamins and stuff they need. (You catch my drift: this movie has an ample amount of positive lessons and isn't just fart jokes with a cute dragon tossed in.)
The visuals, my god. The artwork behind this thing is incredible. If you're not into dragons, pirate ships, large scale action scenes (which there are plenty), then you've still got incredibly rich saturated images with deep layers to rest your eyes on. I saw this in 3D and sure, having dragons fly by the camera was a joy at times, but it's that depth that got me. I will say the first opening sequence took me a good minute to adjust to. It's action packed, but a scene I'd prefer to see in 2D if possible. So to spell it out - the bulk of the 3D was fun, all though the camera movement/cuts in that first opening scene, the one where you're trying to take so much of the world, I think might give a few mom and dads a headache.
While I've hopefully skirted around any real spoilers, everything in a review (in my opinion) boils down to: "So is this worth the money to see in theaters?" If it's about 15 bucks a pop (Which in Austin, TX money means 3D tickets) and you've got kids... Yes. The spectacle was worth it, and unlike THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 (sorry to pick on you Webb!) you're dealt equal amounts of action, humor, genuine emotions that all all culminate in a good 'ol time at the movies. This is one of those "see it in theaters" as opposed to "hold off until you can rent it" kind of features. Fun film. Good morals (while not feeling preachy). High energy. Yeah, I would definitely recommend this movie to all of you fine folks out there in internet land. Alternatively, if you've had a chance to check the movie out, please - hit the Talkbacks here. This was just a bunch of my thoughts lumped together into paragraphs - I'd be curious to see what you guys and gals thought!
- Mike McCutchen