Two of 2014's more successful sequels — How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — share more than just their recent debuts on DVD and Blu-ray.
Both up the ante considerably regarding the computer animated adventures of their titular beasties, with each recently netting Annie Award nominations for their skilled efforts. Those nods are well-deserved, as both Dragon and Apes feature several impressive action set pieces that boggle the mind in their complexity while still engaging the viewer; the spectacles never lose their substance.
While it is far from surprising to see Apes continue on its grim path to global genocide (we all know after all how this Planet ends up of the Apes), it is a shock to see the "family friendly" Dragon take a serious dark turn. In hindsight, it makes logical narrative sense for this spoiler-ish event to occur (especially as rich story fodder for the inevitable How to Train Your Dragon 3), and it easily establishes the Dragon series as DreamWorks Animation's best and most accomplished franchise (seriously, do we really need four Madagascar movies?).
Following 2010's Oscar nominated How to Train Your Dragon, Dragon 2 finds our hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his trusty dragon steed Toothless facing off against a nasty dragon poacher while also reuniting with Hiccup's long lost mother (given life via the luscious vocals of Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be a sort of "dragon whisperer". Out director Dean DeBlois deepens the rich mythology of the series and even throws in the coming out of gay viking Gobber (Craig Ferguson). This is a fantasy adventure for all ages.
Taking place after a "simian flu" pandemic decimates most of the human race (as alluded to at the close of its predecessor, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Dawn rises on ape leader Caesar (once again portrayed by a motion captured Andy Serkis, now top-billed, less slack-jawed and more stoic) presiding over his clan living peacefully amidst the California Redwoods. Naturally, it doesn't take long for the encroachment of man from the nearby ruins of San Francisco (along with last year's Godzilla remake, 2014 was a rough year for the gay mecca, cinema-wise). This leads to a monkey mutiny led by loose cannon Koba (Toby Kebbell), who violates "ape shall not kill ape" with an assassination attempt on Caesar ("Et tu, Koba?").
Then all hell breaks loose, things blow up (including a surprisingly underused Gary Oldman), and the stage is set for... Day of the Planet of the Apes? Brunch on the Planet of the Apes? Scream, Planet of the Apes, Scream? Yes, it is a tad predictable, and the human characters are all pretty bland, but director Matt Reeves keeps the pace up and running. As with Rise, Dawn continues to carry on the classic Apes tradition... and further helps us forget Tim Burton's ill-advised visit to the Planet of the Apes back in 2001.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: B+
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: B+
How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are now available on DVD and Blu-ray:
Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.