How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

htyd2What a year in animation 2014 has been!  If Big Hero 6 is the masterpiece it looks to be (currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!) than I wonder if this is the best year in animation since the renaissance?  2010 was a also great year too with Toy Story 3, Tangled, Secret World of Arriety, Megamind and the original How to Train Your Dragon.

That film was a fun adventure about an underdog kid named Hiccup in a viking culture that thinks Dragons are an enemy.  He befriends a hurt dragon named Toothless and realizes they are kindly, peaceful creatures.  Unfortunately nobody including his father Stoick will believe him and they insist upon hunting down the nest of the dragons. Eventually Hiccup helps the dragons prove their worth and they win over the town including Stoick.

how to train your dragon cast

For this update Hiccup is now a young man and expected to follow his father Stoick as Chief of the town.  His girlfriend Astrid is a winner in the dragon races.  The plot gets going when an enemy named Drago threatens to conquer them and take all of their dragons.

Hiccup wants to talk to Drago but his father says it is madness and they must prepare for war.  It is a great very grown up discussion for kids about whether seeking peace is correct or appeasing your enemy.  When do you fight for your family or seek peace at all costs?  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a similar debate and I LOVED that movie.

I don’t want to spoil it for any of you but this is an epic movie.  If your kids are frustrated they can’t see Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter this is a perfect option for them.  It feels like that kind of  epic fantasy.  As fun the first one is, this sequel is even better.  It’s bolder, it says more and has a very meaty story.

New characters are introduced including a special relation to Hiccup.  And the villain Drago and his hypnotizing Beast called the Alpha are very effective.   It does a good job of making things seem without hope for our heroes which is key to this type of movie.

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Drago and Alpha

The animation is stunning.  I still wish they wouldn’t make the dragons so separated from the styling of the rest of the film.  All the fluorescent colors don’t seem to fit in well. I love in animated movies when characters fly and in this movie Hiccup even does some base jumping!

base jumping

While I am still not in love wiht Jay Baruchel as Hiccup’s voice, he is fine.  Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill all return and do a good job as their characters.  Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou are new to the cast and both good; although the inconsistencies on accents is a little annoying.  Why does Hiccup and Astrid sound like  Americans,  Blanchett’s Valka sound British and the rest Scottish?  But that’s a nitpick.  It’s a good cast .

stoick

The disappointed Dad storyline is a little tired but there is so much else going on I didn’t mind it.  It might be a little complicated for some kids but there is enough excitement that I think they will still enjoy it.  There are also some scenes of real heart and not to repeat myself it is an epic fantasy story!

The score is phenomenal by John Powell who earned an Oscar nomination for the first movie and he should win another.  It was so good in building tension and excitement without being overbearing.  Evidently they used an array of Viking and Celtic instruments including harps, uileann pipes, tin whistles and bagpipes and you can hear it.  It’s gorgeous.

The official trailer gives away a big spoiler so I wouldn’t watch it if you care about spoilers.  This one just shows the amazing flying sequences.

Aside from a few squabbles it is a very strong film and should be a huge hit for all ages of kids and adults.  I loved it!

For very emotional kids there are a few moments of death and sadness and battle that gets intense.  It’s also probably a little long for very small kids at 1 hr 41 minutes.

Have any of you seen it?  What did you think?

Overall Grade A   Content Grade A

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Movie 51: Winnie the Pooh

posterYou might be thinking. ‘wait a minute Rachel, you’ve already reviewed Winnie the Pooh’? And you would be right but I already reviewed Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which was released in 1977 and is one of only 7 films I’ve given an A+ too.  Today we aren’t talking about that film but the 2011, Winnie the Pooh.  While not as strong as 1977, Winnie the Pooh has its own appeal and magic and I enjoy it.

As I mentioned in my Consider the Audience post one of the things that makes this Winnie the Pooh special is it is made for little kids.  Toddlers in fact, and any mother who has sat through Barney for the millionth time will tell you what a rarity quality for small children is.  The original is made for slightly older children, or at least the Heffalumps and Woozles is a little scary for the smallest of children.  It’s also a little bit longer and small children have a shorter attention span, which is why not many movies are made for the demographic, mostly just TV.

If the movie is not for you maybe you should ask yourself the question ‘maybe it just wasn’t made for me?’.  Most movies can’t be everything to everyone.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with a sweet, short, simple movie made to entertain toddlers.

Oh and did I mention I love the music by Zooey Deschanel and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the team behind Frozen!  I consider Winnie the Pooh to be one of the underrated, hidden gems of the Disney Canon.  Not as good as the first but still a lot to love considering it is for a different demographic.

The Production-

Wow there was nothing on this movie.  Very few production details anywhere I looked.  The few things I found is veterans Stephen Anderson and Don Hall directed. Burny Mattinson, a Pooh veteran, was a lead storyboard artist and they hired a new cast including Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Tom Kenny as Rabbit and Craig Ferguson as Owl.

Here is the trailer

For the music they had new songs except for the title Sherman Brother’s song which is sung by Zooey Deschanel.  I love the new intro.

Some critics didn’t like the length but again that’s actually its big selling point.  63 minutes is perfect for a little child.  Plus, the original was only 11 minutes longer, so is that really such a big deal?  Winnie the Pooh went in against a Harry Potter movie but it still did ok.  Made 44.7 mil in theater on budget of 30.

The animation is lovely and it is great to see 2D back again with Disney as much as I enjoy the computer generated movies.

The Story-

There are 2 stories, instead of 4 that make up Winnie the Pooh.  Our first story is helping Eeyore find his tail.   The writing is very sharp and I found myself laughing throughout.

The gain tries a number of different possibilities for Eeyore’s tail but nothing is working.  Finally they decide to ask Christopher Robin.

eeyoreChristopher’s eyes follow the anime big eye look we saw in Tangled and other films which bothers some but not me.

winnie 2011

They don’t have much luck finding a suitable tail when the day is done.  The next morning they find a note from Christopher

backson

The smart one of the group, Owl, determines Christopher has been taken by the Backson and is in trouble!  We get a charming song that isn’t too scary for little kids but still nostalgic for adults. I’ve sat with little kids watching this number and they just love it!

So the gang goes out to find the Backson

WINNIE THE POOH

There’s interactions with the narrator just as in the original and 4th wall jokes that are very dry and funny.  You also have characters behaving like little children such as when Piglet cuts up the rope to save the gang.

We also get a cute song where Pooh dreams of honey.

Eventually Christopher returns and explains the confusion and we get our gang back together again.  It’s as simple as that!

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Movie Review/Conclusion-

Let me again reiterate, this movie is not for everyone but I don’t think it is trying to be.  What it is trying to be, a simple movie for very young children, it does very well.  It’s sweet and Winnie the Pooh continues to mean childhood in 2011 as it did in 1977.

There are enough little jokes and play on words like when Owl says ‘issue’ and the gang thinks he’s say ‘achew’ and blessing him.  That’s clever and funny.  It’s a soft, simple, short movie that parents will enjoy and their little one’s will fall in love with.

The music is a great folksy take on Winnie the Pooh and the animation is bright and colorful.  I love that it doesn’t shout at your kids or use hip lingo or stories meant for older kids.  It gives simple stories and let’s their imaginations go wild.  I can’t imagine a little girl or boy that wouldn’t love Winnie the Pooh.  It’s bright and colorful and full of warmth and charm.

If I was going to fault it I’d say some of the new voices aren’t perfect but I don’t hate them either.  They are just ok. Also they could have made the Backson story a little shorter to fit in one more plot device.

But I really do love it and hope they make more feature films for Winnie and company.  Of course, I’ve liked all the Winnie the Pooh movies, Disney Canon or not (I had 3 siblings over 10 years younger than me so I got used to watching small children’s programming and understanding what was quality and engaging for them and what is not.  Winnie the Pooh is).

Curious George is another great choice for very small children if you are looking for suggestions.

Overall Grade- B