Looking Back at 2010s Films: Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

12 Nov

By Tanner Smith

One of the best, most surprising animated treasures of the 2000s was DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda,” starring Jack Black as a panda who learns kung fu…thinking about what I just wrote baffles me for how stupid it seems and yet delighted that it actually worked.

And it definitely worked. Released in 2008, “Kung Fu Panda” was not only beautifully CG-animated and very funny AND wonderfully choreographed (for animation, providing as many kung fu styles as possible takes incredible skill)…but it was also rather moving and beautiful when it needed to be, and it taught a valuable lesson that speaks to both kids and adults: we all have unique skills that help make us who we are.

Three years later, in 2011, we got “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which was even better. More atmosphere, more action, more visual treasures, and most surprising of all, more emotions–you will believe Jack Black as Po the Kung Fu Panda will make you feel things!

I could make a Looking Back on 2010s Films post about “Kung Fu Panda 2,” but honestly, I think I’d rather write about “Kung Fu Panda 3,” my favorite of the trilogy.

Yes, it’s a trilogy with a conclusion…unless DreamWorks decides to go the PIXAR/”Toy Story 4″ route and meet back up with familiar characters years later. (I’d be fine with that, if it’s done well, like with “Toy Story 4.”)

With each passing film, we see a neat progression in Po’s character. In the first movie, Po was a mere kung fu enthusiast (and flabby panda) who was chosen to become the Dragon Warrior to combat a dangerous villain and bring peace to the valley. No one believed in him until he was able to find the skills within himself to get the job done.

But with “Kung Fu Panda 2,” we’re reminded that it’s not as simple as that to become what you desire to be. Po had to search within himself to find out who he truly is and not just who he wants to be. (Oh, and he also had to find out about his origins, as his father’s a duck who obviously adopted him.) Through it all, he finds inner peace. A satisfying resolution for an even more satisfying sequel. Where can we go from there?

Well now we have “Kung Fu Panda 3.” What are we going to tackle with this one? Well, this time, Po has to be a teacher. Already, I’m intrigued. Po is still excitable and energetic. He has mastered many of the ways of kung fu, but we see he still has a lot more to learn. Now, Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) is stepping down as master of the Furious Five and appointing Po as the new guy in charge. But even Po knows he’s not ready for this responsibility–and thankfully, we get a scene early on in which Master Shifu states the reason he wants Po to teach is so Po himself can learn something new, because he shouldn’t get used to what he already knows. Pretty good point there.

Anyway, Po is visited by another panda in the valley, named Li (Bryan Cranston), who it turns out (GASP!) is Po’s birth father! It’s a happy reunion that turns into more than that when it turns out Li may be able to help in defeating a new all-powerful villain, the chi-stealing warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons). You see, pandas possess the hidden secrets of the power of “chi,” which translates to “life force” or “energy flow.” The more Kai can possess from those he comes across, the more powerful he becomes. Thus, Po has to travel with Li to the secret panda village to learn chi. But it’s going to be harder than it seems, as Po is interacting with his own species and finally learning how to be…a “panda,” for the first time in his life.

Oh, and Po’s adoptive father–you know, the goose (James Hong)–is understandably jealous of Po’s new attachment to the father he never knew. Thankfully, this subplot isn’t as annoying or even as distracting as it could have been. And its resolution is actually kind of touching…but not as effective as…

You know, it’s baffling and kind of disconcerting that “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t get the attention it deserves. Critics recommended it mildly at best. It was released in January, when it could/should have been a fitting summer release. And of the three “Kung Fu Panda” movies, this was the only one not to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

People just see it as just another “Kung Fu Panda” movie, which is a shame, because…I love this movie.

Why do I favor this one over the previous two? Because it’s a definite proper conclusion in this sense: it’s the only one in the trilogy that came through with its original promise. You ever notice that what usually defeats the previous villains is some kind of magic that was never fully explained, defeating the purpose of the message the films try to get across, that it’s best to find your own inner strengths? Well, this time, even though the mystic Wuxi finger hold (which I still don’t get) plays a role in the climax, the focus is still on what Po is able to teach his fellow pandas in the ways of kung fu. He teaches them to use their abilities to their advantage, and in a fresh, inventive way, it truly works. There’s an ancient Chinese saying that kung fu lives in everything we do–this is a Kung Fu Panda showing us how! As strange as that may sound, it’s truly effective.

Now, I can just predict some troll commenting, “Haha I’m writing an angry comment on your blog–is THAT kung fu? XP” To that, I say, “It just might be.”

And as Po learns who he himself really is, it’s actually very emotionally satisfying. I can’t help it–the “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy is better than it had any right to be. With the right skills and writing and technical wizardry, you can make even the silliest ideas work wonders.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Wind Rises (2014)

12 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong, this was said to be. Well, a few more years will change anyone’s mind, as he seemingly has another film in the works. But it wasn’t the first time he announced retirement anyway. Who am I to complain? If he wants to keep making films, let him.

“The Wind Rises” is one of Miyazaki’s best. It shows his strengths as a visionary animation director. It’s visually stunning, has a beautifully told story, and is just an overall fantastic film. It’s also the first time Miyazaki tackled a “true story,” so that’s just as impressive. It’s a story loosely based on aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who came up with the design of the Japanese Zero fighters, which were used in WWII.

Thankfully, neither the character nor the film have a political agenda to get across. We know what damage and tragedies came from this creation, with many lives lost at the hands of the fighter pilots. But the character of Jiro didn’t know that would happen–he just felt happy to create something unique and special…it just turned out that “something” was a weapon.

The film doesn’t focus on the controversies that spawned from what this creation led to, but it doesn’t ignore them either. It instead focuses on the wonder and majesty of bring something new and innovative to life. That is what the film is about–it’s a fable about dreams, creativity, and passion.

And the way the film explores the creative process is imaginative. We see Jiro’s dreams and fantasies (in which he converses with his hero, a late Italian aviator voiced by Stanley Tucci), and we also see little things that inspire him, even something as small as a curvy fish bone that inspires his ultimate design.

But the film is also very downplayed. Characters talk about what should be done and what needs to be in order to make it work, in realistically effective fashion. The visually amazing sequences that Miyazaki does best are saved for dream/fantasy sequences, which was a wise decision for a film like this.

Oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit: human voices are largely used as sound effects, such as engine roars. I don’t know exactly why, but I think that’s ingenious.

So maybe Miyazaki hasn’t called it quits yet. Whatever his next film turns out to be, I’ll be interested in seeing it.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Columbus (2017)

11 Nov

By Tanner Smith

One of the bonus features on my Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray collection for Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy is a wonderful video essay called “On Cinema and Time.” It looks at many of Linklater’s films (including the “Before” trilogy, of course) and Francois Truffaut’s “Antoine Doinel” film series (spawned by “The 400 Blows”) to look into the styles of distinctive filmmakers who can be labeled as “auteurs.” And it was done brilliantly. (Side-note: please watch it here.)

Who made the video? A filmmaker best known for his video essays, simply known as Kogonada (or, : : kogonada). He’s all about content, form, and structure of film, and his video essays are about trademarks and aesthetics used by filmmakers. Other sources for his essays include Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, among others.

I remember thinking, this is a fascinating “movie buff” (for lack of a better word) and he should write/direct a feature film some day. Well, he did–a wonderful conversation-driven comedy-drama called “Columbus.”

The film takes place in Columbus, Indiana. One of our two main characters is Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who graduated high school, works at the local library, likes to walk around local architecture and pretend she’s a tour guide providing important information to people, and also cares for her mother, who is a recovering drug addict. The other is Jin (John Cho), an American who works in South Korea translating literature to English and comes to Indiana to care for his estranged father, who is now in a coma after he was supposed to give a lecture about architecture.

Jin and Casey meet by chance, strike up conversation, and find they share a rapport. Jin hates architecture, leading Casey to tell him about her favorite buildings, which then leads Jin to ask WHY they’re her favorite structures. In talking about this stuff, they also open up about themselves, such as how Jin feels resentful towards his father since he buried himself into his work and how Casey would love to pursue her dreams of working in architecture but feels pressured to look after her mother. The two help each other out, even when they both stubbornly state they don’t need help.

I mentioned the “Before” trilogy and how Kogonada’s video essay was used to illustrate Linklater’s style of presenting philosophy and time through cinema. Watching “Columbus,” I can’t help but feel like this is the style Kogonada took inspiration from. Most of it is not so much “dialogue” driven as it is “conversation” driven, as the “Before” trilogy was. That’s not to say he steals Linklater’s style; he just puts his own spin on it, with his own writing, characters, and style. He’s telling his own story through words, and he’s also doing it through architecture–many of the film’s static shots are framed in such a way that we can appreciate the design of the setting just as Casey appreciates the structures of her favorite buildings. He’s practically forcing you to look at what he has to show you.

Jin and Casey are two interesting people communicating both through conflict and despite conflict. They need each other to talk with/to, and as a result, we learn more about each one of them and what they have to go through. That makes the scenes in which they’re with other people, such as Jin with his father’s assistant (Parker Posey) and Casey with her coworker Gabriel (Rory Culkin), all the more interesting when you note the contrast between they want to talk about and what they’re afraid to talk about. Thus, each time Jin and Casey revisit each other to talk some more, I’m all the more invested in what they have to say next.

John Cho is very good as Jin–it’s great to see the guy who was known as the “MILF guy” in the “American Pie” movies and the first half of “Harold & Kumar” get opportunities to shine as a dramatic actor. (He was even better in “Searching” in 2018.) But the real star of the film for me is Haley Lu Richardson as Casey. I’ve liked her in movies like “The Edge of Seventeen,” “Split,” and “Support the Girls,” among others–“Columbus” gives her the role she was born for. She’s brilliantly natural, she has great screen presence, I feel for her character from beginning to end, and she delivers a true heart to the film that I can’t praise enough. I want to hug her when she’s upset, I want her to follow her dream, I feel bad for her when something goes unexpectedly, and I smile for her when she does something she even remotely likes. She’s nothing short of wonderful here.

There’s a lot of sadness in “Columbus,” which is why Jin and Casey need their outlets to let out their emotions. But there’s also a lot of possibilities for them to move past it all and embrace what they have and what they could get. Much of it has to do with love–the sacrifices for it as well as the avails…kind of like what goes into architecture as well.

Kogonada has another feature in the works: a science-fiction drama called “After Yang,” starring Colin Farrell. With this guy at the helm, I look forward to seeing that film as well.

Looking Back on 2010s Films: Argo (2012)

11 Nov

By Tanner Smith

If you’ve followed my Looking Back on 2010s Films series (and it’s OK if you haven’t–I’m mostly doing this because it’s fun, not to gain a large fanbase or anything), you may have noticed I tend to mock the Oscars (mostly in favor of the Indie Spirits). But maybe that’s not fair. The Oscars aren’t the only game in town and when you get down to it, it’s still another group of people who have their own collected opinion about movies they think deserve higher recognition.

With that said, are there any Best Picture Oscar winners on my decade-end top 20?

Well…there’s one. (And there are also two Best Animated Feature winners as well.)

BUT I still would like to write some others for this series, such as “The King’s Speech,” “Birdman,” “Moonlight,” and “Green Book.” And “Argo.”

(And I’ve already written about “The Artist.” That film came SO close to making the list.)

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is one of the more entertaining thrillers of the decade. It’s thrilling, intriguing, frightening, tense as hell, and overall very interesting to watch. And even though I liked another Best Picture nominee of that year, “Life of Pi,” a little better for different reasons, I still cheered when “Argo” took home the gold. (And “Life of Pi”‘s Ang Lee took home the award for Best Director–not that Affleck was nominated, anyway. Oh yeah, I still remember the controversy about that!)

As time went on, I’ve seen “Argo” more times than “Life of Pi,” so I guess that says something about being careful which film you personally declare “the best” at the time, but how do you know at first?

“Argo” is based on “declassified” true events–a story that was kept a secret for decades: the “Canadian Caper.” US CIA agent Tony Mendez rescued six US diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the Iran hostage crisis, by having them pose as a filmmaking crew who were in Iran for a location scouting. It was a plan so crazy that it actually worked, but not without some suspense along the way. Affleck has already established himself as an accomplished director with gripping thrillers such as “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” and so he was up to the challenge to make this into a film (and he also stars in the film as Tony Mendez).

But of course with such praise from critics and audiences came the inevitable backlash–films that are based on true events always have people coming out about facts that differentiate from fiction. In the film’s climax, it shows higher stakes for the six diplomats than what was probably set up in the real-life situation of escaping from the country. And former President Jimmy Carter, who still liked the film, criticized the Canadian embassy’s minimal involvement in the film, where in actuality, the whole plan was mostly their idea.

Well…OK, fair enough. The main hero for “Argo” could’ve been Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor rather than US CIA agent Tony Mendez. But…eh, let me enjoy what I have. What I have is really damn good already.

It feels like a ’70s political thriller. Everything looks and feels right. The hairstyles. The technology (right down to the box TV sets). Even the vintage Warner Bros. logo that starts the film. And plus, ’70s political thrillers exaggerated a lot of tense situations based on true events as well–“Argo” is just playing by “movie rules.”

It’s also very funny, with Alan Arkin and John Goodman as a movie producer and makeup artist who help Mendez with the ruse of a sci-fi film in pre-production that needs enough exposure make it realistic. Their interaction with Affleck, the dialogue they deliver about what it means to make it in the business, the contrast between what they stand for–all of that is well-done here. Plus, old-school Hollywood always fascinated me, and that’s why these are my favorite scenes in the movie.

Though, I’m sure if the “Argo” film project they talk about was made into an actual film, I’m 75% certain it would have been pretty bad, even for “a $20 million Star Wars rip off.”

What else can I say but…”Argo f**k yourself!”

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

11 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I enjoyed “How to Train Your Dragon” more than I expected to, given its admittedly-cheesy storyline, because it showed skill and strength to make it feel fresh and new. “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” I liked even more because it added to the ideas of the original, which all great sequels do. “How to Train Your Dragon” has become DreamWorks’ most surprising franchise since “Kung Fu Panda,” and I had hopes for this third installment: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” Did it live up to those hopes?

Trick question. Yes, it did. As the (possibly-) final installment in this successful, fun and even heartwarming series of animated films about Vikings and dragons, it’s just as enthralling and exciting and gorgeously animated as the previous two films, but because this is our farewell to these characters (unless we’ll catch up with them nearly a decade later, a la “Toy Story 4”), it’s also very emotionally satisfying. You will believe a boy and his dragon will make you feel things.(That’s as much as I can reveal without spoiling anything, but I’ll add that the resolution is more inevitable than it is predictable.) 

Will “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” be the last we see of these characters? Maybe, maybe not. But as the concluding chapter of this particular trilogy, it’s wonderful seeing them wrap up their story as is. 

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, whose “honking-goose” voice is actually acknowledged at one point by a supporting player), the young protagonist of the previous movies, is now the chieftain for the Viking village of Berk, which lives in perfect harmony with dragons. He, along with his dragon Toothless and his friends (including his betrothed fiancee Astrid, voiced again by America Ferrera), leads raids to rescue captured dragons and bring them back to the village, leading to overpopulation. Seeking to fix the problem, Hiccup decides to use his late father’s notes to try and track down “the Hidden World,” where dragons live in peace. But he has to make haste with help from all villagers, as the villainous Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who hunts and kills dragons, seeks to kill Toothless, as he is a Night Fury, the species of dragon that Grimmel wants to rid the world of. Knowing it takes a dragon to trap a dragon, he uses a female Night Fury (a light skinned one—a Light Fury) to attempt to lure Toothless into his trappings. 

Grimmel isn’t a very complex villain, but compared to the previous film’s villain (just a ruthless warlord), he at least has a slimy charisma to himself and does deliver as much comedy as threats. But the film isn’t necessarily about him or his plan—he’s merely a McGuffin (though an entertaining one). It’s more about Hiccup’s coming-of-age journey to lead people with confidence and courage while also learning how to cope with change as he’s encouraging everyone else to accept it. He has to lead the villagers to a new place to call home where they’ll be safe from Grimmel’s further advances while he also has to come to grips with the very real possibility that’s eventually going to have to let Toothless, who has fallen in love with the Light Fury, break away from his only friend. It’s an engaging personal quest to follow, and Hiccup continues to grow as a character with each passing movie. His crisis of confidence is further assisted by returning characters such as Astrid and Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) by his side. 

Oh, and there’s also Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), one of Hiccup’s comic-relief friends whose main purpose is to give Hiccup some “helpful” advice, most of which is about the concept of “marriage,” which Hiccup and Astrid are both unsure about. Tuffnut’s sister Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) had a good share of the comedy in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (and she has one great scene in which she’s captured by the villains and then let go because she’s so damn annoying); this time, Tuffnut has that distinction. A little obnoxious, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t get a few laughs out of me.

And speaking of laughs, there’s a great comedic moment that feels like a Chaplin/Keaton silent film…but with dragons. It’s when Toothless tries to engage in “dating” with the Light Fury and has trouble impressing her. (It also doesn’t help that he can’t fly on his own, and the Light Fury spends very little time off the ground.) Toothless is nothing short of adorable here. 

But how do the visuals hold up? I think each “How to Train Your Dragon” movie looks better and better. The flying scenes are still incredible. The animation of the characters and the world around them is always impressive. And the scenic elements are wonderful—with the excellent cinematographer Roger Deakins on hand as visual consultant, I’m not the least bit surprised how great it looks. 

If this is the last time we see Hiccup or Toothless, at least we had three terrific movies to spend time in their company. “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is an exceptional final chapter in an effectively fun trilogy, and I’m sure I’ll revisit all three films in a row in the near future. 

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Attack the Block (2011)

11 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block.” This. Film. Kicks. Ass!

OK, I’ll admit, when I first saw this British import on DVD, I turned on the English subtitles because the accents were a little too thick for me to understand a lot of the dialogue, and there was a lot of British slang I didn’t get at first either. (Don’t blame me for being a dumb American.) But it didn’t matter; I still enjoyed the film. Then I watched it again; I liked it even more. Then I watched it again; I loved it even more. And I kept watching it again and again and again, and soon enough it became one of my favorite movies!

I should contain myself, but this is a retrospective after all–can’t I be a little excited?

It’s funny because thick accents aside, I can understand why people wouldn’t get into this film at first. The main characters, who are streetwise teenage thugs in South London, are violent, cruel, vulgar, and unlikable. When you first see them, they’re mugging our secondary main character, nurse Sam (Jodie Whitaker), and bragging about how tough they are…or how tough they THINK they are. It’s when the aliens arrive that we actually see them as real, scared kids. They realize they’re hardly a match for these numerous, gigantic, vicious beasts who want nothing more than to maim and kill anyone that they come across. (Btw, how DO these things travel through space? They don’t seem to be that intelligent. It’s like if the shark from “Jaws” was an alien.) The kids are scared; they think quickly; they trust their wits; they perform deeds that they think are so tough before they get a couple of them killed; and so on. As the film continues, these kids do become worth rooting for, which is very important.

By the end of the film, after a night of mayhem and surviving, even if a couple of them haven’t learned anything and will probably stay the same, at least the leader, Moses (John Boyega, a few years before his breakthrough as a defective Stormtrooper), has learned the error of his ways and will most likely rehabilitate himself. And it’s to Boyega’s credit that we can see the transformation through his performance; he’s great here. And so is Alex Esmail who plays pyromaniac Pest and makes for effective comic relief (I love when he’s trapped in a room filled with weed but with no papers).

And speaking of comic relief, there is plenty of that, mostly provided by Nick Frost as a drug dealer and Luke Treadaway as a preppie druggie who has no idea what the hell’s going on until it’s too late to run away easily. BUT “Attack the Block” is also an effective thriller/horror film. The tension builds with each scene, the monsters are nicely-done and pose as a legitimate threat, and there are some good boo-scares (such as when a creature suddenly appears through a peephole).

More importantly, “Attack the Block” is a ton of fun! It’s thrilling, it’s funny, it’s tense, it’s engaging, it’s even dramatic at times, it has good effects, even better acting, the action and characters go well together, the creatures are suitably gruesome, and it’s over in less than an hour-and-a-half. I’ve seen it a hundred times already, and I’ll definitely watch it a hundred more! What else can you say but “That’s a alien, bruv! Believe it!” See? It’s even making me saying those British slang words I didn’t even know were real.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

9 Nov

By Tanner Smith

In my Looking Back post on “How to Train Your Dragon”, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen the “How to Train Your Dragon” sequels. I didn’t even see the first movie again for nine years–but after I did, I knew I had to check out the next two chapters.

What makes a good sequel work? When it continues the story they started and ended with before. “How to Train Your Dragon” (spoilers, I guess) ended with a Viking village learning to unite with once-feared dragons after the odd man out–the scrawny, awkward Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel)–taught them the hard way that there are benefits to training them. Now, with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” we have a promising setup: years later, the village is living in perfect harmony with dragons. Immediately, you know not everyone, especially those outside the village, is going to be fine with that, so there are possibilities with the concept.

And thankfully, there are many terrific ideas at work with this sequel. A madman wants to raise a dragon army. There are other Dragon Riders. Hiccup’s long-lost mother is involved here. And more.

How does the movie turn out? Well, not only did I like “How to Train Your Dragon 2” every bit as much as “How to Train Your Dragon,” but I think it’s even better.

Just when I thought “Kung Fu Panda” was DreamWorks’ most enjoyable franchise.

Director Dean DeBlois took inspiration from “The Empire Strikes Back,” one of the greatest sequels in film history. And it makes sense. That film also continued the original story with new ideas and twists to add further layers. That includes expanding the scope. What “The Empire Strikes Back” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” have in common is they both take the audience to different places and introduce us to new ideas that make us think about what was before and what could be in the future.

The characters from the first film are welcomed back, including the dragons which all have different expressions and identities. Hiccup is still a likable lead, and he’s given more room to grow in this environment he’s still trying to find his place within. Also, it’s amazing I haven’t gotten annoyed by Jay Baruchel’s gratingly nasal voice by now–guess it just adds to his character. I also like Astrid (America Ferrara), Hiccup’s fellow dragon-rider and girlfriend, better in this sequel–she has more to do and is stronger and more resourceful, but she doesn’t have to try so hard to prove it, which is a huge relief. Hiccup’s father Stoik (Gerard Butler) is still a stubborn ass but for different reasons this time–one of the strengths of both “Dragon” movies is that this brutish character isn’t a one-note angry Viking. Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson), Stoik’s close friend, is still effective comic-relief (though not much else). Oh, and we also have Hiccup and Astrid’s obnoxious friends from the first movie (voiced by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig)…you know what? At least two of these four actually got some laughs out of me this time around! I especially like Ruffnut (Wiig) and her strange infatuation with one of the new antagonists: a Viking named Eret, “son of Eret” (Kit Harrington). (The moment she allows herself to be captured in slow-motion by Eret’s net and she drones, “Take me,” while holding her arms out–that had me laughing on the floor!)

The new characters include the aforementioned Eret, the dragon trapper that sets the plot in motion, as Hiccup and the dragon Toothless discover a plot to build a dragon army for the mysterious Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a ruthless warlord who wants destruction all around. But more importantly, we have Valka (Cate Blanchett), a dragon rescuer who has created a safe haven for dragons and lives solely amongst them. OH, and she’s also Hiccup’s mother!

So now, we have more room for backstory and character development to gain, more secrets to learn about with the dragons, and more of this visually impressive world we get to discover. This is just what was needed for a “How to Train Your Dragon” sequel and I absolutely loved it.

And the animation is of course spectacular. The flying scenes were a definite highlight in the first movie. They’re just as gorgeous if not even better in the second movie. I really wish I had seen this film on a big screen (and in 3-D) just to absorb the glory of Hiccup and Toothless flying in the wide-open sky. (This time, Hiccup has his own manmade wings to soar alongside Toothless rather than ride on top of Toothless.)

There are even some emotionally beautiful moments too, as you would expect with the reunion between Hiccup and Stoik and Valka. But something else happens late in the film (and I won’t give it away) that I didn’t think the film would tackle…and it did. Damn.

Even though I wasn’t sure about the idea of including a villain for the sequel when the first movie didn’t need one, and admittedly Drago’s motivation for conquering dragons is a little too obvious, I bought it because I thought this one was inevitable.

I made a mistake ignoring the “How to Train Your Dragon” sequels, and I will see the third movie, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” real soon. Will it be just as good as the other two, will it be even better, or will just be a serviceable sequel? I don’t know…but I’m going to find out!