How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
In 2010, How to Train Your Dragon became one of DreamWorks Animation’s biggest moneymakers — raking in almost $500 million worldwide, only falling slightly short of Shrek Forever After (2010). With the studio abandoning the kid-friendly formula it was typically renowned for — loincloth-draped lemurs who apparently liked to, ‘move it, move it,’ and screwball wise-cracking animals who were more annoying than funny — DreamWorks Animation instead crafted an ageless, emotionally deep, character driven feature, capturing the imagination and hearts of worldwide movie-goers, in the same way Pixar mesmerized viewers with their stunning visuals and first-rate storytelling. Soon after, How to Train Your Dragon spawned an animated television series, with two seasons already under its wing, titled DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk (2012) and DreamWorks Dragons: Defenders of Berk (2013) — both being relatively admired — following the gallant Hiccup, Toothless and their dragon-riding comrades as they embarked on various harrowing quests. With the film’s colossal success however, a follow up picture — in this particular day-and-age — was somewhat inevitable.
Unlike the dreaded Shrek films — which squeezed out more than enough needless and unwanted sequels from its overtly one-story concept — How to Train Your Dragon 2, was accepted by writer-director Dean DeBlois, Lilo & Stitch (2002), on the condition that he could transform the picture into a trilogy, with the first film serving as an opening act in a larger narrative, in the hopes of fashioning an overall coming-of-age story where Hiccup eventually becomes a wise Viking chief, roughly mirroring Cressida Cowell’s book series — which the first film was heavily based upon; in the midst of the potential third picture, DeBlois even aims to unravel an explanation as to why the dragons have now disappeared. With How to Train Your Dragon 2, it’s clear that the creative team have attempted to evade the predicament that is often faced in unnecessary sequels, where the chief character — who obviously had all their problems seemingly resolved by the conclusion of the first film — goes on a redundant ‘escapade,’ totally irrelevant to the prior flick. How to Train Your Dragon 2 however, is quite the opposite. It’s a clever, heartfelt, adventure story that works as more than just a simple follow up, as this sequel builds upon the mythical world, characters and magic conjured up in the picture’s first outing.
The film opens five years after Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his winged companion, Toothless, successfully united dragons and Vikings on the island of Berk — it’s also notable to mention that the characters have all aged five years, with some of them sprouting facial hair, grey hairs and bearing wrinkles, all looking faintly older than their last incarnations. Dragons have now become fully integrated into the lifestyle of Berk and are being used in ingenious ways around the island to make it a safer, more advanced place — dragons have become so integral to Berk that those without one are in the minority. While Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and the rest of the high-flying gang are busy challenging each other to competitive dragon races — the island’s new favorite contact sport — the now inseparable duo — Hiccup and Toothless — trek through the skies, charting unmapped territories in the hopes of discovering vast new lands. When one of their ventures leads to the sighting of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and a mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves in the midst of a conflict capable of disrupting the peace in their thriving village. Now, Hiccup and his Night Fury pal, Toothless, must unite to stand up for what they believe in — the notion that dragons and Vikings can coexist together in harmony — while recognizing that only together, do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.
With a strong narrative that works as a continuation from the first film’s story, How to Train Your Dragon 2 ticks all the right boxes; it’s emotional, moving, humorous, witty, thrilling, character-driven and simply compelling — as a film it’s particularly difficult to fault. The animation is possibly DreamWorks finest to date with the adventurous flight sequences really putting the audience in the dragon saddle, particularly if experienced in 3D. There is a high level of detail in the animation, with characters — facial hair is evident on some of the young males and a light scar can be seen on Hiccups chin — dragons — with scales, teeth, claws and movement looking vastly lifelike — and surroundings — being picturesque, scenic and full of vivacity — all being enhanced and approved upon for this sequel. The dragons — several from the first and a number of surprising original designs — are draped and decorated in striking patterns and shades, presented as beautifully breathtaking beasts — the dragons are bursting with personality and quirks, resembling household pets rather than fire-breathing menaces. Though swathed in lush fur coats, the human designs appear to be slightly more mechanical this time around — with the film’s inhabitants wearing more helmets, straps, armor, brackets and buckles — emerging as older, wiser and more warrior-like.
There is a great deal of character growth within the film, as it heavily explores the complexities of its leading protagonists, their hopes and dreams, their relationships with one another and the island of Berk. All the characters from the original picture are back in this animated sequel, along with some exciting new players. Overall, the voice talent does a wonderful job in conveying the heart and soul of the picture. Jay Baruchel’s performance, This Is The End (2013), is authentic, as he reprises his role of Hiccup, bringing a sense of maturity to the scraggy and unkempt hero, seeing as both he and the character have aged since the last film hit theaters. Gerard Butler, 300 (2006), is dynamic and brass as the voice of Stoick the Vast, leader of the tribe of Vikings on the island of Berk — Stoick is big, strong and stubborn, all traits that emerge through Butler’s gallant portrayal. America Ferrera, Ugly Betty (2006), once again supplies the voice of the determined and extremely dedicated Astrid Hofferson, a Viking warrioress who is now Hiccup’s number one defender and champion, in a boy-friend-girl-friend type of way — Astrid is certainly my favorite computer animated female character, and it was great seeing this tough-but-pretty, stern and sharp girl back in action. Craig Ferguson, Kick-Ass (2010), supplies continuous hearty laughs as Gobber the Belch, Stoick’s metal-prostheses-wearing right hand man, now the dragon dentist and doctor of the tribe.
As far new characters go, the most memorable is certainly the enigmatic female Dragon Rider, Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), adding a gentle maternal tone to the heavy male occupied land. Then there are the picture’s antagonists; a young dragon trapper with a bad attitude, known as the Son of Eret, voiced by an egotistical Kit Harington, Pompeii (2014), who sells the dragons he traps to Drago Bludvist, a self-proclaimed ‘Dragon God’ who tries to conquer the World with his enormous army of humans and dragons, powerfully portrayed by an intense Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator (2000). The relationships between the human characters and the dragons is quite dominant throughout the film, as these once winged menaces now play a central role in the lives and future of the Vikings, as either friend or foe. What’s more, there is a strong but subtle maturity fostering between Toothless and Hiccup, which grows with the film’s narrative, building on the pair’s bond — which was sparked in the original picture — displaying the affinity that can develop between man and beast.
Lavishly directed, with a triumphant score, impressive storybook visuals, awe-inspiring locations, appealing characters and an immersive narrative, How to Train Your Dragon 2 soars, making for a solid second entry in the film franchise — everything audiences loved from the first movie is bigger and better this second time around. How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t exactly require patrons to have seen the first film, but having done so does make this picture slightly more gratifying. In an era where follow-up features have become the Hollywood norm, it’s rare a sequel rewards continued viewership, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a roaring achievement for its legacy of fans, whether young or old.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is released through 20th Century Fox Australia