How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of those rare sequels that feels not like a cash grab, but a completely organic extension of the first film and I could not be happier about that.
The original How to Train Your Dragon was my favorite animated film of 2010, beating out great movies like Tangled, Despicable Me, Arrietty, and even Toy Story 3. Also, I am not ashamed to say that HTTYD2 is well on its way to being my favorite animated film this year. This is, of course, due in great part to Dean DeBlois, the director and writer on the original HTTYD and other great films like Mulan and a personal favorite of mine, Lilo and Stitch. DeBlois is able to do something here that most animated sequels (outside of Pixar films) fail to capture; that is the original film’s sense of wonder, while still allowing it to grow up. HTTYD2 picks up five years after Hiccup and Toothless united the dragons and vikings of Berk. They currently spend their time charting the island’s unmapped territories. During one of their adventures, the pair discover a secret cave that houses hundreds of wild dragons who are eyed as prizes for a power-hungry warrior named Drago. Hiccup and Toothless then find themselves at the center of a battle to protect their homeland Berk from this dragon obsessed mad man.
Let us start with how this film has grown up. In the past 4 years the team behind the film has wasted no time on updating their animation. The original was breathtaking, and seeing it in 3D added an extra layer to the wonder. This film tops that. The updated character models of the now 19 and 20 year-old Hiccup, Astrid, and the rest of the gang – look amazing. From the colorful, but subtle, new pallets for the film, to every hair and scale on Toothless and Hiccup’s heads. The former rebellious kids have become icons in their home of Berk, and Hiccup’s Father is ready to have Hiccup take over as chief of the village. The entire original cast is back, and Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera and Gerard Butler are in particular form along with the additions of Kit Harington as Eret, Djimon Hounsou as Drago Bludvist and Cate Blanchett as Valka, Hiccup’s Mother.
“It felt like an embellishment and that’s the goal.” — Dean DeBlois
Now let’s talk quickly about Hiccup’s mother. A major portion of the emotional force of the film lies in the relationship between Hiccup, Stoick and Valka. You can see that particular time and care was put into crafting these scenes. A lot of artistry goes into scenes like the first time Hiccup and and Valka meet, the look in Stoick’s eyes when he sees his love for the first time in years, and one of my favorite scenes where Stoick and Valka reunite with each other through singing and dancing their wedding song. The problem is that what should have been kept as an emotional and powerful reveal of the film is belittled by all the movie’s marketing. The shock of Valka still being alive is plastered all over every trailer and poster. This takes away the tension when we first meet her dressed head to toe as the mysterious dragon rider. It robs us of some of the beauty of these great scenes.
One of the things that the marketing didn’t spoil at all was Drogo, but that is because there is very little of Drogo there to spoil. The problem with Drogo is he is a very one dimensional villain, and not for a lack of trying. The story tries to tell us how powerful, evil, and unreasonable Drogo is, but it never actually shows it. This leaves us feeling that ultimately Drogo is nonthreatening. The film even tries to make us feel sympathy for Drogo by telling us what he has lost to the dragons, but again, the movie makes the same fatal mistake of telling and not showing.
This is disappointing because the movie does a great job showing us so many great moments, it really is a thing of beauty. The film keeps many of the same key elements that made the original so great, while still managing to step it up a notch. John Powell has really expanded on his already beautiful music from the first film. The score helps aid all of the amazing and captivating cinematics and does a lot more to create tension than the villain does himself. The film also has a sense real consequence; the first movie did this so well by having Hiccup lose his foot, but I won’t spoil what happens in this movie for you. When you do go see the movie, I really recommend that you see it in 3D. The film’s flying scenes feel like something out of an amusement park ride. It really gives you the sensation of what it might be like on the back of a dragon soaring through the clouds.
Dean DeBlois agreed to make the film as long as he could make it feel like the films of his childhood, films like The Empire Strikes Back, “What I loved especially about Empire is that it expanded Star Wars in every direction: emotionally, its scope, characters, fun. It felt like an embellishment and that’s the goal.” On this he wholly delivered!