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Hail Caledonia as dragons sequel shows brave hearts

Dir:

LAND OF DISCOVERY: Hiccup and Toothless venture beyond their usual boundaries and find danger.
LAND OF DISCOVERY: Hiccup and Toothless venture beyond their usual boundaries and find danger.

Dean DeBlois

Voices: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett

Runtime: 102 minutes

DREAMWORKS Animation, the studio behind this sequel to the 2010 hit, has its headquarters in California, but it has reason to be grateful to auld Caledonia.

It is Scotland that provided the accent for Shrek, one of the film company's most successful heroes, and it was to Scotland again the animators turned when it came to voicing the humans in this tale of Vikings and dragons.

After a few lacklustre offerings, Turbo chief among them, DreamWorks will be hoping it is three times a charm for the Scots accent in its films, and so it proves with Dean DeBlois's follow-up.

While still as much fun as the first movie - as Dr Johnson almost said, she who is tired of dragons is tired of life - How To Train Your Dragon 2 takes the story to spikier places, making for a picture that manages to be both spectacular and moving.

To recap: having feared and fought dragons forever, the good people of Berk, led by their chief, Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), are now living peaceably with the beasts.

Dragons are treated as part of the family, and every home has one. As such, the original dragon-human combo, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his faithful Toothless, a Night Fury, are riding high, having proven to all, or nearly all, that dragons and humans are brothers under their hairy and scaly skins.

The new instalment opens with Hiccup and his pals playing a Quidditch-like game on their dragons, which allows DeBlois to showcase all the advances in animation there have been in the last four years.

It is a thrilling sequence, but he is saving the truly breathtaking moments for later.

It is while crossing the skies one day that Hiccup, as is his now adolescent wont, ventures beyond his usual boundaries to discover both a mysterious land and a cloaked stranger.

Outwith the land of Berk there are idyllic places, it seems, but there are also great dangers in the form of dragon hunters and haters.

It is when these twisted souls hatch plans to take over the realm that Hiccup and his friends are forced to grow up faster than they could ever have imagined.

The first Dragon worked so well because it was an old-fashioned tale in every sense.

Not only was it set in ye olden times, it had at its heart ye olde relationship between a boy and his dad, one learning to become his own person, the other learning to let go.

Sounds very Californian, I know, but it is a story as old as Adam. This time around the focus is on other relationships, and proves just as successful. Hiccup will find the world has more to offer than his father, and bigger challenges than pleasing him.

Where the first film was scary, simple and cheery, the sequel proves knottier as everyone - human and dragon alike - has their loyalty and bravery put to the test. DeBlois, who always planned for Dragon to be a trilogy, clearly has ambitions to take the franchise to deeper, more emotional, places.

Joining Butler on voiceover duties is Craig Ferguson, as Stoick's dopey chum, America Ferrera as Astrid, Hiccup's feisty gal pal, and Cate Blanchett as the mysterious stranger, Valka.

As in the best animated films, you pays your money and takes your pick as to favourite character. Each has his or her turn at the serious stuff and the jokes, of which there are a great many good ones, aimed at every sector of the age range. No-one in the family should feel left out.

Regardless of what happens among the humans, it is the dragons that are the beating hearts of Cressida Cowell's books (on which the films are based) and these exhilarating movies.

Here, it is even more obvious what they represent. Fun, playful, loyal and a great place to rest a sobbing, troubled head: what are Toothless and his fellow dragons but dogs that fly? And what could possibly be more fun?

Opens in Scotland tomorrow

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