Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family

Coco is a Pixar movie. That means it has a formula. There’s a uniquely colourful world featuring an outcast who enters that world on an adventure in order to learn the value of family and believing in himself. We’ve been there before. Pixar has been there before. I guess they call it formula. The trick is how well the animation studio uses that formula in a new world, and the world of Coco is so gloriously imaginative and colourful and funny and creepy and weird that it’s easy to get lost in. It’s one of the best movies they’ve ever made for big screen, mouth-agape viewing. The thing is gorgeously mounted and so funny and fun that you barely realize you’re being set up to bawl your eyes out until it’s happening and you can’t control it. Not me of course. I don’t cry at movies, obviously. But I’m sure someone will.

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Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

This time, the plucky outsider who becomes a hero is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a young boy who feels a passion for music in his bones, but is cursed to live in a family that won’t let him even listen to the stuff due to a family tragedy a few generations back. Miguel is determined though. He studios the videos of an old mariachi movie star named Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) with hopes to win a local mariachi contest on the Day of the Dead—things go wrong though. Through a series of strange circumstances Miguel finds himself crossing over to the land of the dead, where he’s pursued relentlessly by his dead relatives who want to send him back. Miguel wants to find his hero de la Cruz, convinced that he might actually be part of his family. Along the way he hooks up with a slapstick silly skeleton named Hector who agrees to help Miguel if he can offer help on the other side. You see, those who live in the land of the dead only exist in the afterlife as long as their relatives remember them. Hector is about to be forgotten and needs Miguel to make sure his long lost daughter in land of the living does not forget him.

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Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

Whew! By the typically stripped down narrative specialists over at Pixar, that’s a lot of ground to cover just to set up the story. It introduces not just a fantastical world to the audience, but an entire culture, and does so with grace and respect. Co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina were careful to honour mythology of The Day of the Dead and as a result it’s already a massive hit down in Mexico. It works beautifully for those who don’t know the world as well. Playing on themes of memory and family and the way we can live forever through legacy. It’s not a conventional Eurocentric view of the afterlife, but one that registers deeply. The filmmakers also run wild with the neon spooky aesthetic of the Day of the Dead, creating the most beautiful and deranged afterlife since Beetlejuice. There are times when you’ll wish you could pause the movie in a theatre and study all of the beautiful design work that the animators layered in. Yet it all suits the story. It’s never style just for the sake of it. The filmmakers elegantly mix style and substance.

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Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

The voice cast of almost entirely Mexican actors is strong as well, varying from the goofily comedic to the heartbreakingly tragic (often within the same performance). Like all great Pixar flicks, the film plays as a pure comedic adventure for so long that you barely notice the tracks being laid for the eventual emotional payoff. The tale is so fun and imaginative with so many delightful characters, asides, and musical sequences (somehow the screenwriters even work in a hilarious Frida parody that suits the story beautifully) that when the final twists and messages snap into place, the waterworks flow like a faucet turned immediately to full blast. The final message is a gut punch of emotion that throws all the wacky fun and glorious imagery that comes before it into stark purpose in an instant. Pixar has gotten too good at this stuff.

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Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

Coco is a wonderful piece of storytelling that hits all the possible pleasure buttons with ease and grace. The only pitfall the filmmakers face is the fact that Pixar has done this trick so many times, audiences are beginning to take it for granted. Some will claim Coco is overly familiar and formulaic to the studio’s house style. They aren’t wrong, but anyone who dismisses it is being overly cynical. Sure Pixar has hit these beats before. So have others. Rarely does it work this well though. This is a special movie. One that will have something to move, wow, and amuse just about everyone. Isn’t it nice when Pixar commits to an original idea rather than sequels? It’s almost as if they should be focused on that rather than cranking out Cars movies until the end of time. Worth a thought anyway.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

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Toronto’s Arc Productions Files For Bankruptcy

Toronto's Arc Productions Files For Bankruptcy

After the Canadian long weekend, Toronto’s Arc Productions has officially shut down. The news of the animation company’s bankruptcy was first announced by TorontoVFXJobs and later reported by CartoonBrew. Hundreds of employees are currently locked out and many of the artists are missing wages.

“We regret to inform you that Arc is experiencing significant financial difficulties and a liquidity crisis,” wrote CEO Tom Murray to his staff. “Despite the very best efforts of management to find a solution to this financial emergency, we have not been able to resolve this matter with our lender.”

Arc’s pedigree of work may not be reviewed as amazing, but it does include children’s titles such as Gnomeo & Juliet, 9, and The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie. These productions were done when the company was still known as Starz Animation, which was their name until 2011 when they re-branded.

Toronto's Arc Productions Shuts Down 1The company then began co-producing titles with Disney, which included the LEGO Marvel animated specials and the upcoming Netflix series, Tarzan and Jane. Arc was set to produce their next original animated film, Blazing Samurai, for a 2017 release date and was going to be distributed by Open Road Films. There is no news about the current state of the project and whether it is cancelled.

Artists knew that something was amiss last Friday when they were not paid, which was apparently caused by a “glitch” in the system. Now that employees know that in fact it was not a glitch, but the unaware financial security of the company, they want the money they are owed.

“We are still working diligently to find a solution that will allow us to pay outstanding wages due to you, but, in the event that wages are not paid and the Receiver is appointed, there is a federal government program known as the Wager Earner Protection Program where employees of companies that have gone into receivership may be able to make a claim for unpaid wages, severance and vacation pay,” Murray wrote.

Our thoughts go out to the affected people of this unfortunate circumstance and we hope that they will be able to find work soon. Another studio, Fireforge Games, has also filed for bankruptcy today.

The Secret Life Of Pets (Movie) Review

The Secret Life Of Pets (Movie) Review

The Secret Lives Of Pets is one of those movies that are pretty much entirely summed up by the title. Ever wondered what would happen if pets were left alone by their owners? Wouldn’t that be friggin’ crazy?! You know, kind of like Toy Story only with cutie pie animals voiced by celebrities. If you saw the trailer, you get the movie. There isn’t much more to it. But on the plus side, it is a fun idea that is executed fairly well. After all, this is the latest production from Illumination Entertainment. They are the people who brought you the Minions, the most ubiquitous cartoon kiddie pleasers in recent memory. The folks at this studio sure aren’t Pixar, but they know exactly how to make unpretentious cartoon entertainment that never goes out of style. The type of thing that you used to watch on Saturday mornings and children now watch on Snapchat or whatever (It’s been a while since I was a kid).

Read moreThe Secret Life Of Pets (Movie) Review

Inside Out (Movie) Review

Inside Out (Movie) Review

After a flurry of movies in the 2000s that somehow managed to be crowd pleasing works of animated entertainment and almost audaciously ambitious films, Pixar’s output has cooled as of late. A splat of sequels, prequels, and a token Disney Princess feature were all well made and quite profitable, but lacked the depth that defined Pixar as such a special dream factory. Thankfully, that streak is finally over. Inside Out doesn’t just feel like vintage Pixar, it has the potential to be remembered as one of the finest projects they’ve ever produced. It’s a wonderfully entertaining and colourful little high-concept comedy that packs a moral punch about how to deal with emotions that would take most adults a few decades of therapy to come to terms with.
insideoutheader1The film takes place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Her mind is represented as a control room run by a collection of emotions: Joy (Amy Pohler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phllis Smith). A quick prologue establishes that Joy is the leader of the group and the first emotion that Riley ever experienced. Soon sadness joined her and as the girl grew, as did the number of emotions running her control switchboard. Her memories are collected in big balls defined by each emotion and Joy has been careful to ensure that all of the core emotions that define Riley’s personality have been influenced by her perky self. However, that all changes when Riley’s family moves to San Francisco, tearing her from her friends, hockey, and even pizza without broccoli. This creates a new core memory spoiled by Sadness and when Joy tries to stop it, the two conflicting emotions are sucked out of the control center and into the deepest recesses of Riley’s mind. Fear, Disgust, and Anger take over Riley during this difficult time as Joy and Sadness rush through the girl’s imagination, subconscious, and dream centre fighting their way back home.

Like all great Pixar movies, Inside Out works on two distinct levels. The first is as a colorful adventure comedy the likes of which the folks behind Herman’s Head could only dreamed to have made. The emotions might be stock characters limited to their namesake defining traits, but they are so cleverly designed with voice actors cast so perfectly to type that it’s hard to notice. Obviously getting someone like Lewis Black to play anger is so perfect that it practically takes care of itself, but the real coups are Amy Poehler (who approaches her relentlessly optimistic role with just the right shade of irony to keep her from ever becoming annoying) and Phillis Smith (who deadpans the role of sadness perfectly and movingly). The writers, filmmakers, and animators clearly had a ball designing various aspects of the human mind as giant sets, serving up some inspired gags (such as Riley’s hysterical dream boyfriend or the ingenious movie set vision of her dreams) as well as a few adventurous set pieces to keep the pace pumping. There are also some wonderful characters around the edges, especially the melancholically funny Bing-Bong (perfectly voiced by the great Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary childhood friend who embodies the film’s theme of letting go of childhood in the quest for maturity.
insideoutinsert7Of course the other level that Inside Out works on is an emotional/intellectual level that’s even stronger. The central metaphor of emotions controlling behaviour is strong and one that the Pixar team tease out in wonderful ways both big and small (even seemingly throw away choices like the order to which the emotions enter Riley’s mind or the way her mother’s mind is controlled by Sadness and her father’s by Anger speak to deep truths that some viewers might not even notice until repeated viewings). However, the central moral that co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen (who previously made Up! together) is a real doosey. The film is ultimately about the importance of letting sadness govern our lives as much as happiness and how embracing both extremes fosters emotional maturity. That’s a pretty complex message to squeeze into a frothy bit of animated summer entertainment, yet the filmmakers do so in such simple and eloquent ways that make the message poignantly clear. As you can imagine, since the movie came from Docter who previously delivered the tearful conclusion to Monsters Inc. and the gut-wrenching opening to Up!, audiences of all ages will get a pretty intense case of the feelies by the time the credits role.

Inside Out is weep-worthy, devastating, and thought-provoking, yet somehow also cheerfully entertaining and wildly creative. You know, just like a Pixar movie. There was a period when the studio managed to perfect and repeat that formula in such wildly different permutations that it was almost easy to take them for granted. After a few years of more modest fair, Inside Out feels just that much more special. It’s rare that any movie would do so much so well, let alone something that also offers beautiful CG animation and a story both simple and complex enough to work for seemingly any audience. This is a truly special summer movie. One that will delight kids almost as much as a barrage of dinosaur attacks and give their parents reason to devolve into blubbering tearful messes before re-evaluating the way they carry their emotional baggage over the drive home. That’s not easy, even if Pete Docter and co. make it feel effortless.

The Boxtrolls Movie Review

The Boxtrolls Movie Review

Not all children’s entertainment should be bright and cuddly. Sure, that’s the Disney flavored tone that tends to dominate the genre, but it’s far from the best form of family entertainment nor is it necessarily what kids actually like. That’s certainly not the type of movie that The Boxtrolls is and it’s an infinitely better flick for it. The film comes from the stop-motion animation geniuses and Laika who previously delivered two similarly horrific children’s tales in Coraline and ParaNorman. But, The Boxtrolls’ tone comes from something else; a distinctly British school of kiddie entertainment. It’s based on Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters, which springs from the type of darkly Gothic and morbidly funny family storytelling that’s best embodied by the works of Roald Dahl. These types of stories are naughty, yet moral. Kids still learn lessons, they just come from a world of lovable monsters and snarling adults rather than anything that could be labeled cute. The target audiences of ankle biters with brains will eat it up, and grown ass people who should know better will probably fall in love with the twisted little movie as well.
BoxtrollsThe story takes place in town of Cheesebridge, a timeless land mixing up medieval and industrial images. Cheesebridge is haunted by local monsters known as boxtrolls and everyone has been taught to fear them by the dastardly Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley). He spins tales about the horrid nightly activities, but in reality the boxtrolls are closer to Santa’s elves in their behavior, if not appearance (They are certainly trolls who wear boxes. That much is true.). In reality the boxtrolls roam the city at night fixing things, disposing of trash, and generally helping out in the shadows. Snatcher just wants them feared and destroyed as part of his selfish plot to join the aristocratic cheese-eating society known as the White Hats (don’t ask). For years, Snatcher’s plan has worked. However, the trolls brought up a baby boy for a decade (Issac Hepsted) who is now able to talk and wants to shed some light on his lovable monster buddies. When he makes friends with a little girl (Elle Fanning) whose father is the most powerful White Hat in town, it seems like he might be able to spread the truth. Unfortunately, these stories never quite go as planned, now do they?

The most enjoyable aspect of The Boxtrolls is just how gleefully co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi revel in the naughtiness of their material. There are no concessions to soften the horror influence for a family audience. Archibald Snatcher in particular is a downright nasty villain and looks the part with rotted teach and a horrifying complexion. When the audience gets a peak at his allergic reaction to cheese, the animators hold nothing back in his disgusting, monstrous contortions. It the type of material lesser studios would smooth out of a family film concerned that it might frighten children. The gents at Laika are wise enough to know that not only will kids find it hilarious, it will be their favorite part. Annable and Stacchi pile on their gothic imagery through a beautifully twisted production design as well as some of the smoothest and most beautiful stop motion animation ever projected on a big screen. It’s a gorgeous technical achievement that even boasts 3D that’s actually immersive and enjoyable. The film is a wonderfully hilarious Grimm-style fairy tale in filled with delightfully sardonic British humor and a moral about acceptance that doesn’t feel cloy for an instant.
BoxtrollsThat distinctly and darkly British humor caries over through a pitch perfect vocal cast from across the pond. Sir Ben Kingley steals the show as Snatcher, channeling his greatest performance as Don Logan in Sexy Beast into a PG kiddie monster to remember. The rest of the supporting cast is filled out by brilliant British comedians like Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Richard Ayoade, who give the movie a subversive wit to match all of the monster movie imagery. The result is a blast of pure, joyous entertainment. Animation buffs will marvel at Laika’s exquisite work, British comedy snobs will laugh themselves silly, horror fans will delight at how dark the filmmakers go, and children of all ages (even those who qualify as legal adults) will watch the movie with big dopey smiles on their face. Unless you’re uptight about what may-or-may not be appropriate subject matter for children, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone having a bad time with The Boxtrolls. This just might be Laika’s finest achievement to date and the company is quietly humming along with vintage Pixar quality consistency that deserves far more attention. They just might be the best animation company around these days and if you want to know just how impressive their work is, stay around for a mid-credits meta joke that hilariously showcases the insane amount of effort that went into every single second of The Boxtrolls. All of that effort went into crafting one charmingly sick joke and boy was it ever worth it.

 

Batman: Assault On Arkham Movie Review

Batman: Assault On Arkham Movie Review

DC Animations spate of bi (sometimes tri)-annual direct-to-home-video features began with Bruce Timm as an offshoot of his now legendary animated DCU. Once Timm was done with TV, he began adapting popular comic book stories like Doomsday and Public Enemies into surprisingly strong animated features. Towards the end of Timm’s run, he got ambitious and started adapting comic masterpieces like All-Star Superman and Batman: Year One. It all peaked with the epic Dark Knight Returns feature that perfectly recreated Frank Miller’s classic in an animated film that somehow managed to top Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises as the Batman feature of the year. Since then, Timm’s moved on and DC Animation pulled a New 52 switcheroo. Following the brilliant Flashpoint Paradox, the company delivered the deeply mediocre Justice League: War and Son Of Batman features that marked a huge step back in ambition. Now we have Batman: Assault On Arkham, a film that continues the current trend, yet at least marks a slight upswing in quality. It’s clear now that expecting all of these movies to match The Dark Knight Returns was as big of a mistake as expecting all comics to suddenly do the same back in the 80s. Nope, DC Animation now has a new model of edgy PG-13 fan service features with gorgeous animation and little ambition beyond superhero fun. There’s nothing wrong with that just as long as you aren’t expecting more.

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Batman might be the first word in the title of this new feature, but he’s more of a secondary character. DC is going out of their way to use the animated features as a means to boost popularity in side characters these days and this is actually a Suicide Squad feature. That’s right, it’s about the vicious Amanda Waller hiring a gang of DC miscreants for a mission and instead of payment, she promises not to kill them if they succeed. In this case, she’s pulled together a collection of villains like Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, King Shark, and Black Spider. Of course, those characters are really just wacky faces to fill out an ensemble. The two stars of the show are Deadshot and Harley Quinn, who not only lead the assault on Arkham Asylum to stop some sort of Riddler plot, but also enjoy a little roly-poly in the sack. Obviously, that also means that The Joker will end up being a wild card that screws things up and Batman will arrive just in time to set things straight. It’s an outlaw team up picture a la The Wild Bunch with a Batman setting and thankfully it’s just about as entertaining as it sounds.

“The movie might not be intellectual, but it’s always canonical and should make the target audience giggle with delight.”

DC animation directors Jay Oliva (The Dark Knight Returns, Flashpoint) and Ethan Spaulding (Son Of Batman, Avatar: The Last Airbender) joined forces to pull off this puppy. Given that they are both action specialists, that means the flick is a wild ride from first frame to last. It’s essentially a story told through set pieces, where plot is secondary to ass-kickery and the action doesn’t let up for a second. The story is told at a fever pace, the characters are one-liner delivery systems, and stuff blows up real good. It’s a film clearly made by comic book fanatics who fill their story with comic references and treat the material with reverence. It might not be intellectual, but it’s always canonical and should make the target audience giggle with delight. The DC Animation PG-13 mandate is also pushed to the limit with lots of goopy action including exploding heads and even a little Harley nudity and sex. It’s fun to see the team embrace their ratings board freedom and deliver an animated feature that could never play theaters, but at the same time there’s an undeniable sense that they are being adolescent and naughty rather than mature and adult. It’s a style of superhero storytelling that anyone who remembers the post Dark Knight era of 80s/90s Xtreme comics will recognize. Hopefully, the gang in charge of these features will dig a little deeper in the future, because as fun as that style is, it’s also pretty limited.

Oddly, the film is set in the Batman videogame universe developed by Rocksteady and Warner Brothers Interactive over the past few years rather than the continuity DC animation has been pushing since Justice League: War. The plot takes place between Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum, but it’s honestly not necessary to have played the games to follow the film. Sure, the character designs are the same (which a joy to see translated to 2D animation) and the settings are littered with Easter eggs, but honestly this could be any Bat story told at any time. Of course, the big plus is that also means Kevin Conroy returns once more to deliver his definitive Batman performance and they really should just hire him for every one of these animated features. Troy Baker also pops up to play a faux Mark Hamill Joker like he did in Arkham Origins and the guy is getting better at it all the time. Hynden Walch returns to the role of Harley Quinn that she played on The Batman and she’s pretty excellent. Actually, the whole voice cast is wonderful. There are no fatale castig mistakes hear like the unfortunate Damien Wayne from Son Of Batman. Taken for what it is, Assault On Arkham is an absolute blast. It might be easy to whine about the new direction for these DC animated features, but they can’t all be Dark Knight Returns. At least these features are helping to keep the universe alive and offer big steaming piles of fun in the process. If you’re a Batman or DC fan, you’ve got to see it. Simple as that.

Warner Bros’ Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray is just as pretty and stacked as we’ve come to expect from this series. The transfer is gorgeous with deep beautiful colors, while the score and sound mix would suit a theatrically released feature film. On the special features front, things kick off with a pretty interesting 30-minute documentary about Arkham Asylum that digs deep into the history and meaning of Gotham’s madhouse through interviews with a collection of comic book experts. It’s a pretty fun doc even if it’s shame that Grant Morrison didn’t pop by to discuss his famous graphic novel given that he’s popped by to do plenty of talking head work for DC in the past. Thankfully that’s more than made up for with a 15-minute featurette about Harley Quinn that’s essentially the Paul Dini show and just as fun as it sounds.

Then there’s the usual bonus crop of classic DC animation episodes that includes a fun Justice League Unlimited ep centered on Deadshot leading a heist, a hilarious episode of Batman: Brave And The Bold that introduces their silent film version of Harley Quinn (plus Jokermite!), a Paul Dini-penned Harley-centric episode of The Batman that’s far better than most of that series, and an episode of Young Justice (which I didn’t watch because I hate that show). Definitely an entertaining crop of episodes that highlight some of the more obscure TV shows in the DC animation arsenal. Finally there’s an extended trailer for the next DC Animated feature (which centers on Aquaman…shudder) and an audio commentary from a few of the filmmakers that proves they are in fact a collection of giggling fanboys and fangirls as you’d hope. Overall, it’s a pretty damn nice disc for a Batman movie that might be dumb as a bag of rocks, but is far too entertaining to be annoying. Hopefully this gang of goofy filmmakers will get more ambitious with their animated features again soon, because as fun as Batman: Assault On Arkham is, it’s just a sugar rush bag of candy that feels insubstantial after the three-course meal of The Dark Knight Returns.

 

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Movie Review

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Movie Review

Generally speaking, Dreamworks’ thriving animation department has always been the poor relation to Pixar. The Shrek series became a parody of itself almost instantly and the Despicable Me movies are little more than empty minion calories. But then there’s How To Train Your Dragon, a gorgeous bit of animation with a snarky comedy streak, and a deeply moving core that turned out so well it was almost a shock that the Dreamworks logo played before it. Of course, the company swiftly put a sequel into production and while that theoretically should have turned into an empty cashgrab that spoiled the good will earned by the original film, the sequel turned out shockingly well. Sure, it’s a step down in quality from the last brilliant bit of blockbuster animation, but it’s still a very sweet, funny, and thrilling movie that should please kids and secretly please their parents even more.

The last movie concluded with peace between the humans and dragons in this fantasy land. After Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) trained the wonderful dragon Toothless (which quite frankly ranks amongst the very best kids movie animals), all of his friends and family started riding their own dragons and it seemed as though there would be a happily ever after. Of course, the existence of a sequel guaranteed that it couldn’t possibly continue and so a new villain emerges, the dreadlocked Drago (Djimon Hounsou), an impossibly evil beast of a man who trained his own army of dragons to wipe out the rest of humanity. The good news is that Hiccup quickly discovers Drago’s plot. The even better news is that he also discovers his long lost mother (Cate Blanchett) who has been living amongst dragons and has an army of her own. So Hiccup is able to reunite his mother and father (Gerard Butler) along with a massive line up of dragon all-stars to take out Drago. All seems well until Drago unleashes his secret weapon, an absolutely massive alpha dragon who can control all other flying serpents in his presence. Whoo-boy, this is going to get messy.

As a narrative engine, it’s pretty standard sequel stuff. A new threat has emerged that seems to erase all the good of the last movie requiring everyone to band together for one more round of personal growth. Nothing hugely original about that, but it gets the job done. As with the last movie, the most impressive aspect of the production is the animation. The world created here is so vivid, colourful, and lived-in that you’ll wish you could pick up a game controller and explore it for hours. The action scenes are visceral and endlessly exciting, filled with moments actually designed to take advantage of 3D (far to rare , you know, 3D movies these days). It’s one of the rare CGI family fantasies that works as an action movie, filled with sequences that more than earn the price of admission and in at least one scene can even be described as genuinely shocking. The dragons are wonderfully designed and animated, each feeling like a fully unique character in behaviour and movement. In particular, Toothless stands as one of the most emotive and captivating animal characters ever created in CGI. Without any dialogue or anthropomorphized behavior, that little guy charms the pants off of audiences with a collection of ticks, movements, and expressions without a lick of anthropomorphized behaviour (he’s like a collection of your favourite memories of all your pets with a little fire-breathing hair-raising slipped in for good measure).

To be honest the dragons in the film are so strong that they upstage the humans at every turn. Djimon Hounsou snarls his way through a one-note villain role that makes little impact, while the supporting comedy players like Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill who helped make the last movie so memorable barely even register here. The only human plot given enough screen time to generate much connection is the relationship between Hiccup, his estranged mother, and his father. Admittedly, it’s a strong emotional core to the movie and aided immeasurably by Blanchett’s performance, but still this time the movie is all about the dragons. Fortunately, that’s not really a problem. The laughs might have dipped down in this sequel, but the heart, action, excitement, and dragon-loving good times pick up the slack. The movie might not resonant as well or be as quotable a movie as How To Train Your Dragon 1, but it is still a more than a worthy follow up designed to get butts in seats, thrill them, move them, and send them home happy. You know, like blockbusters are supposed to do.