How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 06.13.2014
Hiccup and Toothless are back for a brand new adventure in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Is this a fun animated film for the entire family or a disappointment? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review.
Directed By: Dean DeBlois Written By: Dean DeBlois; Based on the book by Cressida Cowell Runtime: 102 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Hiccup - Jay Baruchel Stoick - Gerard Butler Valka - Cate Blanchett Gobber - Craig Ferguson Astrid - America Ferrera Drago - Djimon Honsou Eret - Kit Harington Snotlout - Jonah Hill Fishlegs - Christopher Mintz-Plasse Tuffnut - T.J. Miller Ruffnut - Kristen Wiig
While I believe the first How to Train Your Dragon is a very good film, I always found it to be overrated. It is a fine story with some great animation and impressive visuals, but some things about it are problematic. For starters, the ending of the first film never sat well with me. The plot tries to reinforce a message of bringing peace between the warring humans and dragons. One problem with the narrative is the confrontation with the alpha dragon in the final act. Despite the fact that humans and dragons have been natural enemies for many years who would attack and kill one another, Hiccup befriended a dragon and sought to change the attitudes of humans toward dragons. The alpha dragon, while it was a predator, did not appear to be malevolent. It was simply a predator. I did not expect humans to make a pet out of the alpha dragon; but after all the buildup in the story, the act of killing such a creature came off as wrong. It also felt wrong that the alpha dragon was made the de-facto villain of the story. The creature should have been dealt with in another way.
Thankfully, How to Train Your Dragon 2 dispenses the story of those problems. The narrative avoids the odd, mixed message of the first film. Rather than making a villain out of a primal beast, the true villain here is Drago (Honsou), a human conqueror who enslaves and uses dragons for his own ends. The dragons Drago uses to do bad deeds are more or less unwitting pawns whom Drago manipulates and bends to his will. Unlike the first film, the sequel has a more focused narrative. Perhaps this improvement could be credited to the film having a single writer/director Dean DeBlois, who co-wrote and co-directed the first film with Chris Sanders. While not absolutely certain, the multiple visions for How to Train Your Dragon could have caused the uneven tone.
One of the most appealing aspects of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the timeskip device. The story takes place five years after the first one. This means the main cast of Hiccup (Baruchel), Astrid (Ferrera), and the other dragon riders has grown up. They are older, maybe not so much mature, but more battle-tested, experienced, and livelier. They are also incredibly hormonal, based on Snotlout (Hill) and Fishlegs’ rivalry for the affections of Ruffnut (Wiig). For her part, Ruffnut becomes utterly charmed by the utterly uninterested dragon trapper Eret (Harington). The grown up characters give the story a more organic weight. Characters are now golder and developed. The township of Berk has grown accustomed to its lifestyle with the dragons. This reinforces that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is in no way a retread of the first film, but a whole new adventure.
While Drago is not the greatest villain, he’s a more viable threat to the safety and peace of Berk than the alpha dragon in the first film. Also, Drago teaches Hiccup the hardest lesson he ever had to learn--that there are some people’s minds he cannot change. Hiccup learns a lesson and experiences an incredibly emotional, tear jerking, and poignant change in this story. This comes partly in the form of getting reunited with his long-lost mother Valka (Blanchett). Valka actually left Berk and its antiquated views of dragons behind to become a dragon rider, never realizing her growing son followed a similar path before their paths inevitably cross again. But another significant moment profoundly changes Hiccup. It is incredibly surprising and another winning point for this movie.
The movie is a broad family film that’s great for all ages. However, it contains some surprisingly mature narrative elements and quite suggestive jokes. Of course, children will not understand many of these jokes, but savvy adults will. To be clear, the jokes are not raunchy, but cleverly suggestive.
The story features a much wider scope than the original. How to Train You Dragon 2 expands upon the world of the franchise, much like the spinoff TV series Dragons: Riders of Berk. Shortly after the prologue, Hiccup and Toothless explore the territory beyond Berk and enlarge their map of the world. The franchise is now evolving into an epic fantasy saga, and DeBlois’ specific inspirations from the classic Star Wars films are evident.
The 411: How Train You Dragon 2 is a more satisfying and emotionally fulfilling experience than the first installment. The characters have grown and so has the world in which this ever-expanding saga takes place. This is a great film for the whole family, but there are some intense and scary sequences that could startle smaller children. Overall, DreamWorks Animation hit out of the park here with a much stronger, tighter, and focused story for the sequel that is actually an improvement over the first.