In the words of Hiccup – “THIS IS AMAZING!”
Taking place five years after the first film after uniting Vikings and dragons in harmony on Berk, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless journey through the skies exploring new worlds and charting unmapped territories. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave which houses hundreds of wild dragons and a mysterious dragon leader, the inseparable pair find themselves in a battle to keep the peace amongst the rising threat of Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who wants to take control of all the dragons for his own gain.
“Yep, Berk is pretty much perfect. All my hard work has paid off. And it’s a good thing too. Because with Vikings on the backs of dragons, the world just got a whole lot bigger.” – Hiccup
This is better than the first film and it’s not hard to see why. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is everything you want from an animated film – comedy, drama and action-packed. But crucially when it matters, it’s emotional and has plenty of heart.
The first film made you feel like a kid again. It had moments of pure escapism where you wish you could fly away on a dragon and complete breathtaking aerobatics in the sky. Whilst much of those elements are retained for the sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 delves into darker and mature territory. Don’t worry folks, this is still a kids movie! But like all good sequels, what makes them stand out from the rest of the pack is its ability to take risks with the characters, the plot and its surroundings. How to Train Your Dragon 2 achieves that and you will walk away knowing you’ve seen an outstanding animated film.
One thing to praise is certainly the characters. It noticeably obvious that Hiccup has grown up, aged around 20. His loyal friends have aged as well. Even though there’s a gap between films, you’re definitely catching up with old friends.
The opening moments feels like no time has passed when Hiccup is re-introduced on screen alongside Toothless. You believed in their friendship before and I have no doubt you will believe in it again. In fact their bond goes from strength to strength. You smile as Hiccup and Toothless playfully continue to earn other’s trust, daring each other to be better as cleverly demonstrated with Hiccup’s new flying modifications.
There’s certainly a coming of age, right of passage vibe about the film. We get further insights to dragon life and their nature with Tootless being funny and adorable as ever! Hopefully in the third film we get that continuation. While Hiccup’s friends which include his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera) participate in dragon races, Hiccup wants to do something more. He wants to explore, see the world and not be restricted by responsibilities back on Berk, especially when his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) asks him to be Chief. Hiccup feels he’s not ready for the job and through his flying explorations, we get to see an expanded world.
There’s a huge emotional core centred in this film and a part of me is glad I stayed away from certain trailers which spoilt it. In it’s quieter moments, the film does spend its time delving into Hiccup’s past. One expedition with Toothless was all it took to discover that his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) was alive and well after being presumed dead. Her absence has been spent on rescuing dragons from harm in her sanctuary. You can see where Hiccup gets his fearless love of dragons from but what it sets up later is a heartfelt family reunion.
There’s a bit of a Yoda vibe about Valka, reinforcing the common comment that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back of the franchise. Hiccup may know some aspects of the force but Valka with her jedi like knowledge is able to unlock hidden gifts in a dragon that Hiccup could only dream about. The classic example is when she unlocks hidden fins on Toothless, allowing the dragon to make sharp aerobatic manoeuvres.
“A man who kills without reason cannot be reasoned with.” – Stoick the Vast
No animated film is without a villain and that comes in the form of Drago. In all seriousness we don’t get much of a back story with the character besides the basic point that he’s bad, had beef with Stoick and had a bad injury at the hands of a dragon. This experience leads him down the “dark side” where he sees dragons as weapons of intimidation and control instead of seeing them for what they are – misunderstood creatures. Hiccup tries to keep the peace, maybe a sign of his continued hopeful optimism that has gotten him this far but in the end it costs him dearly in an unexpected yet brave scene. It was a moment handled with care and sometimes you easily forget that family animated films can be powerful mediums, especially when they don’t dumb down or pretend everything is going to be ok. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was bold in that execution. Drago serves the purpose if that makes sense but the villainy aspect is handled better than what Frozen delivered.
Any negatives – sure. We don’t really get to spend much time with Hiccup’s friends, not in the same way the first film delivered. Some newly introduced characters don’t get much development because majority of the screen time is devoted to Hiccup, his explorations and reuniting with his mother. The plot can be a little erratic with the mother storyline rushed through and Drago not coming into full presence until 3/4 of the film.
Whilst I hope it doesn’t get overshadowed by other popular animated films that came out in 2014 from the usual suspects, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a success on many levels. It could have played it safe but in the end it offered something more than what people may have expected. It has amazing visuals, a great cast and a compelling story and I can’t wait to see what they will have in store for the third film.
Seriously go watch and have a good time.