Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 [2014]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star with Expl)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A) review

How to Train Your Dragon 2 [2014] (directed and screenplay by Dean Deblois based on the children's book series by Cressida Cowell) is ... sigh ... for me a tragedy. 

Sigh ... it is certainly a visual wonder.  As has been my policy, I made it a point to see the film in 2D rather than 3, and still was impressed.  But if nothing else were going on, I could also see that spending the extra $4 (per ticket ...) to see the film in 3D could actually be worth it this time.  The dragons in their variety and color portrayed are truly a chaotic wonder to behold and the flight sequences among the clouds, among the crags, forests and cliffs of the fjords that the Vikings of old called home are often spectacular.  All this is certainly CGI film-making / animation at its best.

The story?  That honestly is another matter.

First of all, part of the depth / charm of the first film lay in the father-son relationship between the burly heart of gold single-dad Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) and his destined-not-to-win-any-homecoming-games son Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel).  We were told then that Stoick's wife/Hiccup's mother had died when Hiccup was young.  The decision to bring her, Valka (voiced by Kate Blanchett) back (we're told in this movie she didn't die, but left Stoick/Hiccup when Hiccup was young) while perhaps making "good marketing sense," I don't think is helpful either to the integrity of the story or to kids. 

While there is no doubt that kids would generally prefer to have their parents happy and together, the story-line here strains credibility.  (SPOILER ALERT: viewers are asked to believe that 20 years after Valka had apparently decided to leave Stoick - over his then intransigent attitude towards dragons - they'd BOTH be interested in _romantically_ "starting where they left off" upon seeing each other again for the first time after those many years).  PERHAPS, indeed ONE WOULD HOPE, that the renewed relationship between the two will be clarified in a subsequent film.  An honest a reconciliation would certainly be salutary / laudable.  THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT RECONCILIATION -- but to pretend that they would return to being "husband and wife" again, as if nothing happened, simply does not make sense.  Friends, YES.  Husband and wife in all that it implies, come on.  AND THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I'D BE ADVOCATING "FINDING ANOTHER."  I am saying that at some point the "romantic boat" does sail AND THAT _THIS_ IS OKAY.  Yes, let the two be friends anew.  But "renewed romance" ... come on.  Only an ideology that insists on frenetic sexual activity "up until death" would demand that. 

THE SECOND MATTER, AND ONE THAT HONESTLY CONCERNS ME MORE, is at least one "model of leadership" promoted in the story as well as THE FILM'S VIEW OF RACE.  Hiccup's father, Stoick, after all is the village's chief.  When their village gets threatened BY A DARK-SKINNED HUMAN IN DREADLOCKS NAMED "DRAGO" (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) who's learned to use dragons but in an Evil way, Stoick explains to Hiccup that "A leader protects his own."  Honestly, could there be a more succinct statement of "National Socialism" than that: "Der Führer defende sein Volk." (Add to this of course, that this story plays out among a village of VIKINGS (read: Aryans) and as at least one reviewer above noted that THE ONLY IRREDEEMABLE VILLAIN IN THE STORY WAS DARK-SKINNED DREADLOCK WEARING "DRAGO").

Sigh, and I had liked this story ...

I would note though, that the story does prefer Hiccup's (and his new-found mother's) approach to the crisis by seeking to talk to Drago (even if it turns that dark, black, Evil "Drago" proves unwilling to talk / negotiate with him). 

All things considered, this is actually one of the better Hollywood-made contemporary children's films.  But as I've written on this Blog before (notably with Despicable Me 2 [2013]), I'd wish that our story-tellers in Hollywood come to better appreciate that (1) OUR NATION'S CHILDREN are far more racially diverse than the white investors / studio heads giving the go-aheads for these films, and (2) Hollywood, in any case, speaks to the world.  How could a film like this play in say Jamaica or West Africa when the villain is so obviously BLACK.

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