The life of an animated movie can be a weird one. (Well, just like most movies, really.)
ABOUT THE FILM
Any actor of any experience will tell you that they are sometimes amazed when the movie they made was a huge hit. (And vice versa – when a sure-fire success tanks.)
Disney and Pixar dominate animation, of course.
But, you might be surprised to know that Dreamworks has churned out 29 animated movies since 1998.
“Antz” started it all off that October. Like most movies of its ilk, it had an amazing voice cast: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Dan Aykroyd, Ann Bancroft, Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.
“Antz” was successful at $90.7 million, but it wasn’t a colossal hit.
(That October, the Movie Man chose “What Dreams May Come” [a 6]. over “Antz”.)
That moderate success was followed by two more movies that audiences ho-hummed: “The Prince of Egypt” (1998; the Movie Man chose “You’ve Got Mail” [a 6]) and “The Road to El Dorado” (2000, another 6).
So Dreamworks Animation wasn’t exactly a colossal success coming out of the blocks.
But, boy, was that about to change.
“Chicken Run” (2000, an 8) stemmed the tide. Then came the (literal) monster – “Shrek” (2001, a 9, Best of Year and still the greatest animated movie ever made).
However, Dreamworks continued to hit and miss with the public.
For every “Shrek 2″ (2004, another 9 and Best of Year) and “Over the Hedge” (2006 – of all the animated movies the Movie Man has missed, this one was the biggest mistake; the Movie Man chose “The Di Vinci Code” [a 5]), Dreamworks unleashed misfires like “Flushed Away” (2006, the Movie Man chose “Borat!” [a 7]) and “Turbo” (2013, the Movie Man chose “RED 2″ [a 5]).
So, what are the top 10 Dreamworks animated movies?
10. “Monsters vs. Aliens” (2009, a 6)
9. “Kung Fu Panda” (2008, a 6)
8. “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” (2008, a 7 – the rare superior sequel)
7. “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010, a 7)
6. “Megamind” (2010, a 7, and even better on repeated viewings)
5. “Chicken Run”
4. “The Croods” (2013, an 8 – the Movie Man liked this better than most folks)
3. “Over the Hedge”
2. “Shrek 2″
THE PLOT (SPOILER)
It’s been five years since Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) tamed Toothless, the formerly vicious Nighwing dragon.
Now, Vikings and dragons live peacefully, all under the rule of Stoick (Gerard Butler).
Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) spend their days mapping out the kingdom of Berk’s vast territories.
Soon, the duo discover an ice cave filled not only with a huge array of dragons but a mysterious figure – who ends up being Hiccup’s long lost mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett).
She’s trying to protect the critters from the ultimate evil, Drago (Djimon Hounsou). He possesses an “alpha” dragon that can rule over all other dragons – making Drago all powerful.
Even Toothless falls under the spell of the mighty, gigantic alpha; the former soulmate of Hiccup turns on his master.
Drago heads off toward Berk to take over the realm. When all of Berk’s beasts appear to all be bewitched by the alpha’s powers, everything seems lost.
But the bond between Hiccup and Toothless is great – strong enough to even overcome the alpha and defeat Drago.
Once again, as with the original “How to Train Your Dragon” Dreamworks has turned out a great 3-D movie. Several scenes are marvelous with the process.
Every rendering of every dragon is amazing. (But see “What doesn’t work.”)
And so is the detail of Hiccup. He has been aged and animators have done a great job of maturing him.
Every bit of the computer generation in “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ is fantastic. It’s a visual wonder.
Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) gets most of the funny lines as one rider on a two-headed dragon; she is smitten big time with beefy Eret (Kit Harrington).
There’s some gentle innuendos that are funny. (And the gay castoff one-liner from a virile Viking as to why he isn’t married is innocent and would’ve never gotten the notoriety it’s received had sensitive gay groups not made a big deal out of it.)
The “alpha” dragon is Godzilla big and very impressive as it rises out of the bubbling depths of the ocean.
BEST SCENE (SPOILER)
While it lacks the clout of the amazing opening of “Up” (2009, an 8), the emotional scene where bigger-than-life Berk ruler Stoick dies packs some clout.
The Movie Man heard a few sniffles in the audience.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Sometimes the screen is so jam-packed with visuals that it’s just overwhelming.
The variety of dragons illustrated is impressive and amazing, but there are just too many. It’s a case of too much – too many cool dragons where the sum drags down the individual.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2″ lacks the fluidity of the original. This plot is nothing new – which is no big deal – but there is also nothing unique to juice the story line.
The end of the alpha dragon seems pretty easy considering he’s portrayed as practically invincible during all of his other screen time.
There are long stretches of boring exposition that will bore small kids a lot.
Also: There’s no stinger – bummer – so don’t wait around through the incredibly long end credits.
THE RATING (SPOILER)
When the dragons are mean, they will scare little kids – and that’s especially true when the alpha roars.
With that and the death of a major character, the PG is correct.
The Movie Man was a bit disappointed in “How to Train Your Dragon 2″.
While it looks as groovy as the first one, it lacks something to raise it to the original’s level.
Of all the trailers that have surprised this year, the one for the next Transformers movie – “Age of Extinction” – surprised the most.
The Movie Man picked this fourth edition of the series to be the biggest moneymaker of the summer.
The Movie Man is feeling pretty good about that prediction.
So far, only one summer movie has passed $200 million: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” at $206.3 million.
“Age of Extinction” should race past that by July Fourth and head to $400 million country – and first place.