train_dragon_2

How To Train Your Dragon 2

US (2014) Dir. Dean DeBlois

Dreamworks have always had some unfair criticisms aimed at them for being a poor man’s Pixar but which I’ve never subscribed to. Surely by now with the huge success of the Shrek and Madagascar franchises, and 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon, these petty comparisons can be set aside and we can enjoy their films in their own right?

If your memory is a little hazy about the events of the first film, you will need to be a little patient as this sequel dives right back into the action with not so much as brief glance back to the first film to give us any helpful reminders.

Set five years after the first film, the Viking inhabitants of Berk have completely embraced their relationship with the dragons thanks to Hiccup’s (Jay Baruchel) bonding with the dragon Toothless. While out dragon riding with his friend Astrid (America Ferrera) Hiccup encounters a group of dragon trappers lead by Eret (Kit Harington), working for a dangerous warlord named Drago Blodvist (Djimon Hounsou) who plans to form his own dragon army.

Hiccup and Astrid return to Berk to warn everyone and his father Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) puts the island on lockdown but the youngster fly off again to try prevent any further trouble. After becoming separated from their friends Hiccup and Toothless are captured by a mysterious masked figure who turns out to be Hiccup’s long lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), now lives amongst the dragons in a secluded sanctuary.

The Dragon franchise began life as a series of books by Cressida Cowell from which director Dean DeBlois loosely based his script on and with the first film raking in almost $500 million worldwide this sequel – and the third entry due in 2016 – was rather inevitable. In what bucks the recent tradition of sequels having weak and conventional storylines or simply rehash what we’ve already seen Dragon 2 expands on many of the themes of the its predecessor while exploring new and often darker territory.

Now the Vikings have found peace with the dragons, a new antagonist is needed hence Drago’s mission, although it is the presence of Valka which is the key subplot to drive the narrative along, usurping the pernicious plight of our villain Drago. Having believed to be dead after being taken away by a dragon when Hiccup was just a tot, Valka had lived for twenty years with the giant beasts slowly accepted as a friend. It appears she has an inherent empathy for the dragons which Hiccup naturally has in his DNA, explaining his unique bond with Toothless.

This touching reunion however feels just a little unrealistic in no small part to the rushed way in which Hiccup accepts and relates to Valka being the mother he hitherto never knew. the entire reconciliation period is a whole two minutes of screen time but is apparently sufficient enough for them to just carry on like normal. And then there is Stoick who early on would out of the blue compare Hiccup’s capriciousness to that of his mother’s; a blatant portent of things to come perhaps?

The story is littered with small plot points which you know will resurface later to have a greater importance, the earliest ones being Hiccup’s reluctance to take over his father’s mantle as village chief and the special flying trick Hiccup and Toothless have been trying to perfect which the dragon is struggling to master the timing of.

Without giving too much away tragedy befalls the Vikings while the climatic dragon battle yields further casualties as any battle would but stays within the remit of a PG rated film to avoid upsetting any younger viewers. It also takes some time out from the energetic airborne antics to reflect upon the importance of family bonds and a more subtle exploration of man’s relationship with the animal world – in this case dragons.

Physically impressive he may be, Drago is a rather by the numbers villain with a typically flimsy purpose for his pernicious plans. Having lost an arm to a dragon he has resented the winged wonders and fancied his revenge, but the only way to do that is to breed an alpha dragon that the others will respond to as the current alpha is beyond his reach, in fact safe and sound at the sanctuary with Valka.  

Being a CGI animated film the emphasis will always be on the visuals and even with some shortcomings found within, we can be thankful that the story is not just a functional backdrop to the imagery. Of course as emotionally invested as we are in the story, it needs to catch our eye as well, and the bar for CGI animation is constantly being raised. The first Dragon film was unquestionably Dreamwork’s deadliest weapon in being seen as serious rivals to Pixar’s works from a technical standpoint so this sequel had another lofty aspect to live up to.

Improving on the groundwork laid by its predecessor, the animation here is one again amazing with the flying sequences simply breathtaking, taking the audience on a few white knuckle rides even from the safety and comfort of their own chairs. An argument can be made for less quick cut edits during the battle scenes and for allowing some shots to register before moving on, but much of the action and in flight scenes are moments of pure exhilaration.

Sooner or later the Pixar bubble is going to have to burst and even if many don’t consider Dreamworks to be the company to slip into pole position, they can at least hold they heads high in the knowledge that they can deliver something of the standard of the How To Train Your Dragon films.

A witty, dark, emotional, fast paced and superbly animated film, this sequel deserves recognition for daring to tread its own path and not bask in the success of its parent film. Huge fun for kids and adults alike.

7 thoughts on “How To Train Your Dragon 2

  1. Great write up! I loved this film. I thought it was amazing how they aged the character so seemingly effortlessly. The animators deserve a lot of credit for that. The score was equally as beautiful, just like the first film.

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    1. Thanks! My only beef – which is ported over from the first film – is why they think Vikings had Scottish accents! And worse, Hiccup and the other youngsters have American accents!! AAArrrgghhhh! 😡

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  2. Thanks to Megamind and Shrek I think I have enjoyed more Dreamworks stuff than Pixar.

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    1. Nothing against Pixar as they set the standard for CGI animation but they do sometimes seem to be coasting a little with some of their ideas – talking cars worked so why not talking planes?

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    1. I haven’t seen Big Hero 6 so I can’t comment although as an anime fan I would have been pulling for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya! 😉

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