Tag Archives: animation

How to Train Your Dragon 2 review

On Saturday, 21 June 2014, Janice and I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the recently renovated AMC Burlington Cinema 10. We enjoyed the computer-animated fantasy sequel, which had character development and visuals that were at least equal to those in James Cameron's Avatar or several recent Disney/Pixar films.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Animated fantasy sequel

Plot: As with most sequels, viewers who skipped the first How to Train Your Dragon won't appreciate the new movie as fully as they might. Loosely based on Cressida Cowell's children's books, the movies (and the Nickelodeon TV series) focus on Hiccup, a scrawny Viking who breaks with tradition in learning to ride dragons rather than fight them.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up a few years after the events of the first movie. Hiccup's hometown of Berk has learned to coexist with dragons, and we see a quidditch-like race involving his friends.

Restless Hiccup and his Night Fury steed Toothless explore ever farther from his home island and finds his long-lost mother (already "spoiled" in trailers), as well as ruthless pirates who share his gift for communicating with flying reptiles. As in the first movie, sacrifices must be made for the greater good.

Cast: Jay Baruchel returns as a slightly more mature Hiccup, with Gerard Butler as his gruff father and chieftain, Stoick. Cate Blanchett, who hasn't gotten to interact directly with monsters as Galadriel in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies, brings weariness and hope to Hiccup's mother Valka.

Other returning voice actors include Craig Ferguson as Stoick's counselor Gobber, America Ferrera as the winsome Astrid, and Jonah Hill as obnoxious Snotlout.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse is Fishlegs, who vies with Snotlout for Ruffnut's (Kristen Wiig) attentions while her twin Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) looks on and scoffs. The dynamics among Hiccup's family and friends are more fully explored in the television show, but there are many nods to them in the movie.

Newcomers include Djimon Hounsou as the pirate Drago and Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington as the swashbuckling Eret, who captures Ruffnut's eye during one of several narrow escapes from the pirates. Everyone is well-cast in their roles.

Direction: Dean DeBlois, who also co-wrote the screenplay, does a good job of building up the action while also providing some character moments. Any lack of originality in the story is more than made up for by the appealing characters, heartfelt story, and strong visual designs. (No, I haven't yet seen Frozen, but understand it's one of Disney's better recent efforts.)

Cinematography: Although I didn't see How to Train Your Dragon 2 in 3-D, the regular visual effects have continued to improve, with human skin, dragon scales, choppy seas, and fire all spectacularly rendered.

Hiccup's gliding scenes with Toothless early in the movie are particularly good, and even though the large-scale battles toward the end are familiar to fantasy fan, they manage not to completely overwhelm the viewer.

Soundtrack: The musical score echoes the themes from the first movie and the TV series, and it properly accompanies and builds with the action. As in Cowell's books, there is a Scottish lilt to the music, and the opening and closing credits drew us into the superficially slapstick setting.

Rating: I'd give How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is rated PG for action and "some rude humor," a solid 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. I liked it about as much as its predecessor, if not as much as the TV show, which expands on all the characters.

Don't let the relatively disappointing box-office returns dissuade you from seeing it. I'd recommend this movie to fantasy fans, children looking for their summer cartoon fix, and those looking for comedy and drama in lighter measures.

In other family-friendly animation, I thought the third season premiere of Avatar: Legend of Korra was strong, and I look forward to The Boxtrolls. Janice and I also joined Thomas & Kai-Yin for dinner at Noodles & Co., which just opened in Burlington, Mass.

Coming soon: More gaming updates, a Star Trek convention recap, and Byron V.O.'s visit…

Storm season, 2013 edition

Just over a week ago, the U.S. Northeast was hit by a blizzard after a relatively mild winter so far. "Nemo," as some dubbed it, dumped about two feet of snow on Boston between 8 and 9 February 2013. Fortunately, we had ample warning, and Janice and I were able to work from home on that Friday.

Found Nemo

Clearing up after February blizzard

It took several rounds of shoveling to clear our patio and cars, especially since Janice's car got buried in the 12-foot-tall pile at the end of a row in our apartment complex's parking lot. Still, hardy New Englanders were back to work on the following Monday, even if my face-to-face tabletop role-playing game was postponed again because of narrowed roads and difficulty getting quorum.

On Friday, 15 February 2013, Janice and I traveled to Chicago for the wedding of a daughter of one of my maternal cousins. We had visited them a few years ago. At Logan Airport, we had breakfast at Potbelly Sandwich Shop. Janice and I had an uneventful flight, picked up our rental car, and checked into the Hyatt Place in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

We then joined my parents and my brother's family for a filling lunch at the Lucky Monk brewpub. After a brief rest (since large gatherings usually involve eating), we went to Margie & Joe's wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner at Bankok House & Shanghai Restaurant in downtown Elgin, Ill.

The next morning, I watched cartoons with my brother and nieces, who also follow the strong but underrated lineup of Young Justice, Green Lantern: the Animated Series, and Star Wars: Clone Wars. We returned to Lou Malnati's for proper deep-dish pizza.

My second cousin's wedding was conducted at the Highland Church of the Brethren. The groom's step-grandmother officiated at a ceremony that Margie & Joe designed themselves, gathering a diverse set of traditions. The reception was held at the Seville, a large hall that can apparently host several such celebrations simultaneously.

We ate, conversed with fellow guests and family members, and danced (even if we didn't join the younger folks for "Gagnam Style"). The partying went on late into the evening, and a good time was had by all in Chicago. I'll try to share some photos when they get uploaded.

Our return to Boston was delayed by only an hour by the latest snow. I finished reading Redshirts, which I enjoyed — it's similar to the movie Galaxy Quest as a loving riff on Star Trek, but it was a little meta for my taste. On the way home, Janice and I got sandwiches at Charcoal Guido's, a new eatery on Moody Street in Waltham, Mass., for "linner" (lunch+dinner).

After a few weeks' interruption, the games resumed last night with Jason's "Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars." I'll try to post an update for the planetary romance session soon.

Tonight, I'm meeting some former co-workers for dinner at Little India and the latest "Escapists" book club meeting. We'll be discussing the magical realist graphic novel Daytripper, which I enjoyed. So much to do, so little time!

Animation nation suffers some casualties

I've been enjoying much of the latest wave of animated television series this past year, but nothing last forever. This week, the Cartoon Network announced turnover among its "DC Nation" lineup of superhero shows, and Disney XD and Nickelodeon weren't far behind.

Both the team-oriented Young Justice and computerized cosmic Green Lantern: the Animated Series have recently developed more intricate and mature plots, and both have been fairly faithful to the pre-"52" continuity of DC Comics. Unfortunately, both will be ending.

Season 2 Young Justice lineup

Young Justice, as of Season 2

On the Marvel side, I've already mourned the departure of the fun Spectacular Spider-Man and movie precursor Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man is decent, but I still prefer "DC Nation's" interstitial shorts to the "Marvel Mashups."

Tron: Uprising is also rumored to be canceled after being moved to various time slots. Not only did that show expand on the setting and designs of the live-action movies, but it also built its own strong plots. At least Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to be doing well, both in terms of writing, voice, and art as well as ratings.

I still need to catch up on direct-to-video releases, including Superman vs. the Elite and Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, and I've enjoyed the occasional episodes that I've caught of Futurama, Archer, Metalocalypse, and Motor City.

Many of the TV shows that are continuing are fantasy-flavored rather than based on comic books, and I recommend Avatar: Legend of Korra, Dragons: Riders of Berk, and Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. It's too bad that the short-lived ThunderCats revival or SymBionic Titan didn't get a chance to join them.

Janice and I also like the Seinfeld-style Looney Tunes Show, even if we long ago stopped watching Fox's Sunday night comedies, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. In addition, there are other popular franchises I haven't kept up with, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Ben 10, or Adventure Time. I have caught the cute Lego Star Wars one-shots, of not Ninjago.

Speaking of Star Wars, the Clone Wars has also featured impressive character development, spectacular settings, and a gathering darkness, remedying many of the flaws in the live-action prequel trilogy. If the show gets renewed, it will likely move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD following the Mouse House's purchase of Lucasfilm.

I'm not especially optimistic that the upcoming Beware the Batman, Teen Titans Go, Avengers Assemble, and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH will be as good as the departing Young Justice, Green Lantern, or Tron. Enjoy them while they last, or catch up on the best of recent cartoons on video!

Rise of the Guardians review

On Sunday, 2 December 2012, Janice and I met role-players Josh C. & Sara F. at the Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, Mass., for Rise of the Guardians. We enjoyed the holiday-themed animated fantasy movie.

Wallpaper for computer-animated fantasy movie

Seasonal superhero team

Rise of the Guardians follows Jack Frost, a boy who is granted supernatural abilities and meets other seasonal icons, including a sword-wielding Santa Claus, the cute Tooth Fairy, a mute but expressive Sandman, and an inexplicably Australian Easter Bunny.

These seasonal superheroes find themselves fighting the Boogeyman and his nightmares to defend the hopes and dreams of children everywhere. Sure, we've seen all of the elements before, but how they're represented and mixed is a feast for the eyes. In terms of computer animation, I'd put Rise of the Guardians very close to Disney/Pixar's Brave (its rival for awards), as well as to the How to Train Your Dragon franchise.

The voice casting is pretty good, with Star Trek's Chris Pine as Jack Frost, The Shadow's Alec Baldwin as Santa, Isla Fisher as the lead Tooth Fairy, X-Men's Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny, and Jude Law as Pitch Black, the Boogeyman.

Rise of the Guardians is based on a series of children's books that William Joyce wrote for his late daughter. Guillermo del Toro was one of the producers, and the movie does have some of his love of the fantastical.

Dreamworks' decidedly non-denominational film appropriates Christian and pagan iconography, most of which will go over the heads of most viewers. It reminded me of L. Frank Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which was one of the more eccentric adaptations done by Rankin-Bass.

While it's no Lincoln, I'd give Rise of the Guardians, which is rated PG for some violence, about a B+, three out of five stars, or a 7.5 out of 10. Of the previews we saw, Jack the Giant Slayer looks like what I'd call a classic fantasy gamer flick. Josh, Sara, Janice, and I later enjoyed lunch at The Restaurant in Woburn, Mass. Next up: The Hobbit [Part 1 of 3]: An Unexpected Journey!


Bringing out the dead: ParaNorman review

On Sunday, 26 August 2012, Janice and I screened ParaNorman. We enjoyed the stop-motion-animated horror/comedy. Like Coraline, the movie uses familiar archetypes and genre tropes but has a better-than-average script, clever allusions, and a decent emotional heft.


Good Undead fun

ParaNorman’s all-star voice cast is unobtrusive, and the zombies may be a bit intense for younger viewers. The writers were clearly familiar with the Salem witch trials and how the town has become a tourist destination in Massachusetts.

Without giving away any "spoilers," I liked some of ParaNorman's role reversals and the revelation of the witch’s identity. I could also easily see the story as an RPG scenario using School Daze. I’d give ParaNorman, which is rated PG, an 8 out of 10, three out of five stars, or a B+.

This coming weekend, I look forward to joining Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., college chum Stuart C.G., and Stu’s family during his visit to the Boston area.