Director and screenwriter Dean DeBlois has thoughtfully entertained our children with animated adventures. Among his credits are the Disney hits "Mulan" and "Lilo & Stitch." But his contribution to "How to Train Your Dragon" for DreamWorks in 2010 took his work to another level.

The second installment of the "Dragon" series amplifies the strong points of the original and opens new territory for exploration. The Viking villagers and their new dragon allies advance their partnership. But a new enemy, turning an army of captured dragons to the dark side, threatens the peaceful kingdom.

The young men and women of the village form the core of resistance to the invaders. Their exploits and familiar coming-of-age issues will resonate with older children while giving their parents some serious food for thought. The battle scenes utilize superb CGI graphics. Breathtaking aerial maneuvers provide the expected roller-coaster ride of visuals.

The plot may be a little too busy at times. But mature themes involving loyalty, courage and helping others in need are at the center of the unfolding story. This may be the best generation-spanning film of the summer movie season.

—John Depko

*

Not much joy in 'Jersey'

Oh, what a night it was a few years ago when I saw "Jersey Boys" on stage. This bio of the 1960s singers known as the Four Seasons is a high-octane, crowd-pleasing story of local boys who made good (and bad).

Now comes the screen version, directed by Clint Eastwood, who has a strong affinity for jazz but is an odd choice for this film. That's reflected in his decision to ramp up the drama like a mini-version of "The Sopranos."

But oh, that music! Tony-winner John Lloyd Young reprises his Broadway role as Frankie Valli, and while he's a bit bland as an actor, he's certainly got that distinctive falsetto down. Together with Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza, he's terrific in recreating the sound of the group's effortless harmonies and countless hits until the members' offstage clashes became their undoing.

The film repeats the play's use of each character giving his spin on the story. Eastwood doesn't use it consistently, and thus, the momentum is lost. His attempts to be edgy are as distracting as the terrible makeup the actors wear for their "aging" scenes — overdone and a little cheesy.

I can't help but wonder what an experienced musical director like Rob Marshall ("Chicago") or Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge!") could have done in staging some old razzle-dazzle to keep the pace humming.

Only in the final few minutes of "Jersey Boys" does Eastwood give us what we were hoping for: a rousing musical number with the vitality of the live show. This is Jersey, Clint — we need glitter.

—Susanne Perez

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.