The Red Dragon feels the need to debunk the hubris of this animated franchise (this of course follows up on 2010’s successful, and quite enjoyable, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’). Dragons cannot, point of fact, be trained, least of all by humankind. At best we might lead you on a little for our amusement, or because we enjoy toying with our food before we devour it, but the idea that someone can push the right bits of our bodies and mystically have us at their beck and call is, I’m sorry to say ladies and gentlemen, an erroneous construct of the movie industry in an attempt to satiate those such as myself and supply us with a never ending stream of playthings. The possible exception to this would be the case of particularly attractive human females who like to engage in the activity of dragon riding bareback for private reasons, as this strokes our egos as well as said reasons.
Oddly, the film’s main problem also concerns this aspect. Having well established with the first film (where everyone was originally engaged in conflict with one another) the notion that dragonkind and mortals can exist cooperatively by virtue of each being reasonable entities, this foundation is then turned on its head with the introduction of an ‘Alpha’ dragon which can effectively tell the other dragons what to do and they will obey zombie like each command. This does not work. It completely obliterates the previously central concepts of friendship, morality, reason and, most importantly, free will. Imagine what the sales pitch to create an accord between the species must now become – ‘Yes, seriously they can be trained and become your new best friend that will be loyal until the very end. Unless there is an Alpha in the area in which case YOU ARE TOTALLY FUCKED, and should find the nearest cave to hide in unless you want to watch your family being barbecued’. Worse yet, this concept is used to deploy one of the most hackneyed plot devices for upping the ante and drama in a sequel (no spoilers).
The movie eventually tries to atone for this egregious error of balance but it’s too late by then, and it’s symptomatic of a lot of the loose writing going on. The trailer shows the appearance of main character Hiccup’s long lost mother (played by Cate Blanchett with one of the weirdest pseudo Scottish accents ever) but it turns out she was swept away by a dragon (yes, she too likes to ride dragons, Cate Blanchett could also definitely fit into the exceptions category mentioned above) during an attack on the Viking village leaving her infant son and husband (chief Stoick the Vast played by Gerard Butler) to assume she was eaten. She wasn’t. Her flimsy excuse for allowing her family to think she was dead for twenty years is that the dragons became her friends and she didn’t believe the rubes in the village would change their ways. C’mon. She obviously found something she wasn’t getting at home.
The central storyline focuses on the discovery of an old long forgotten bad guy who’s building an evil dragon army, and our young hero will once again try to find a peaceful solution. Jay Baruchel returns to bring Hiccup to life but, as he speaks predominantly through his nose, he does not make a natural choice for voice acting, and he also plays him in the exact same way he does all his characters – the hopeless geek routine that will have you wanting to gouge your eyes out at points as he tries to tell people utterly crucial things that they need to know and continually lets them interrupt him – spit it out for God’s sake!
There are nice moments, and the animation is colourful, detailed and slick. All of which makes this exactly the same as most of Dreamwork’s output – skilled but with everything undermined by woeful writing. It’s not even morally robust enough to recommend for family viewing unfortunately.