By Michael Roddy
CANNES France (Reuters) - "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was set to bring some animated Hollywood star power to Cannes on Friday, while a feature about a child abduction underscored the 12-day film festival's variety and depth.
The sequel to the animated blockbuster about a boy who bonds with a dragon was being shown to the press out of the main competition, on the same day as three more of the 18 films vying for the top Palme d'Or prize to be awarded on May 24.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan's "The Captive", about the abduction of a 10-year-old girl from the back of her father's car by a pedophile ring, tackled a dark subject. It did not meet with widespread approval from a press screening audience.
Brian D. Johnson, film critic for the Canadian magazine MacLeans, wrote on his Twitter account: "The Captive, a procedural pastiche of Egoyan tropes, draws boos at press screening. Responses range from dumbfounded to vicious."
Jesper Eising, critic for the Danish newspaper Berlingske, said, "It contained some cliches but I was very moved by the story."
The mixed reaction to the film by Egoyan, who has won several awards in Cannes, came after the opening but out-of competition film "Grace of Monaco", starring Nicole Kidman as American actress Grace Kelly, was slammed. Several critics called her performance wooden and the script hackneyed.
Egoyan's film builds up a sinister atmosphere, with one of the principals of the pedophile ring keeping the girl captive in a locked underground room so long that she grows into a teenager whose face he uses on the Internet to try to lure more victims.
"There are these predators who exist in this other space that you don't even consider," said Rosario Dawson, who plays a police specialist dealing with pedophile crime who is herself kidnapped by the ring.
Egoyan said he had been inspired to make the film by an incident in his own hometown in the Canadian west when a boy was abducted in a park when his mother turned her back for a minute.
He also explained his use of the famous "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute" in the movie. The main pedophile sings a distorted version over a loudspeaker to torture the policewoman imprisoned in a garage.
"Mozart is something very pure, very clean and yet it becomes distorted," he said at a news conference.
Dragon fever was evident on La Croisette, Cannes' palm-lined beach boulevard, as the second installation of the animated film about dragons and the Vikings who love them was set to premiere on Friday night.
Under sunny skies, director-writer Dean DeBlois, with stars Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and even dragon Toothless posed for photographers in advance of a news conference.
Excited hoots and enthusiastic applause capped a screening for the press, underscoring the anticipation for the new film whose first version was nominated for a best animated film Oscar in 2011.