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140622dragon2posterHollywood statistics almost universally show the surest path to box office bucks is to make a family-friendly animated film, while R-rated comedies tend to lag far behind.

So what happened last weekend, when the R-rated “22 Jump Street” topped “How to Train Your Dragon 2″?

Or even this weekend, when both “22 Jump Street” and the more mature comedy “Think Like a Man Too” topped “Dragon 2″ again?

Maybe families are spending their money elsewhere (like the insane cost of gasoline and groceries – remember when George W. Bush was under fire in the media for letting gas top $2 a gallon on his watch?). Maybe it’s simply that the college crowds flocking to R-rated flicks have more disposable income than anyone who’s tried to fill a minivan’s gas tank lately.

But regardless of the societal currents affecting box office trends, the numbers only show that there are a lot of people out there who are missing out on “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”

And that’s really a shame.

Like the first “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Dragon 2″ is an entertaining, family-affirming visual spectacle that appeals to kids and parents alike.

And more than just a money-grubbing sequel, “Dragon 2″ is a continuation of the story, joining the dragon-riding Viking named Hiccup (if that sounds odd to you, watch the first film – it’s worth it, and it will all make sense) a few years later, in a critical time in his life when his father is preparing him for marriage, manhood and even the chieftainship of his village.

As a fair warning to parents, “Dragon 2″ is a bit more mature than its predecessor as well – less humor and child’s play; more action, battles and frightening scenes, as well as heavy emotional themes of grief and loss that may be a bit intense for the little ones.

And while I don’t think “Dragon 2″ is as novel or entertaining as its predecessor, the themes of “Dragon 2″ are even more significant, profound and positive.

For example, Hiccup comes on the scene in “Dragon 2″ insecure over the idea that his father has appointed him heir to the chief. And while he struggles with that universal, adolescent dilemma of understanding his own identity, who he really is, Hiccup learns lessons along the way about servant leadership, self-sacrifice, courage and using the unique gifts he’s been given. Movie audiences are also treated to shining examples of strong, but caring male leadership that both protects and honors women, and a strong, capable woman who still exhibits the tender virtues of wife and mother.

In the end, Hiccup discovers how to emerge his own man from beneath his parents’ shadow, while still holding true to his parents’ values.

This is truly a movie those 8 to 14-year-old boys in the audience can really learn from, and it seems that’s exactly the target audience for this film. It might be a bit intense or even scary for the 5-year-old girls in the audience, but for families looking to raise up young men who are both warriors and servants (and girls who walk the even tougher balance between being both strong and lovely), “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ is a journey to enjoy and embrace.

P.S. – There was some controversy prior to the release of the film about a “gay” Viking. The controversy was largely overblown, as the scene involved a Viking only saying there was a “reason” he wasn’t married – and while the voice actor likely meant that as a reference to “gay” marriage, neither the scene nor the animators accented it in any way. Neither is the Viking portrayed as homosexual or effeminate, so there’s really no context or explanation for the off-handed comment, and the “reason” could be simply that he has a peg leg, or that he hasn’t found the right girl, or any number of things. It takes a stretch to interpret the brief comment as a “gay” Viking “coming out.”

Content advisory:

  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” rated PG, contains neither obscenity nor profanity, though one Viking character does exclaim, “Oh my gods!”
  • The film has almost no sexuality, save for a couple of kisses and a teenaged girl who has a googley-eyed crush on a guy, focusing on his flexing biceps and declaring, “Take me,” at one point, though he has no sexual intent toward her and this is played for laughs.
  • The movie does have some significant violence in it, in terms of a series of battles between the dragons and between the dragon riders and dragon trappers. Though neither blood nor gore appear, there are some sudden and startling deaths. The action may be too intense for very young viewers.
  • The film has a small amount of Norse/pagan content, including the phrases, “Oh my gods,” and, “Gods help us all.” There’s also a symbol of unknown origin painted on a character’s forehead and a funeral ceremony where a prayer is uttered about the deceased being welcomed by the “Valkyries” through “Odin’s field” to “Valhalla.”

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