Oooooh man I want one. Very very badly. Dragons take the playfulness of a dog with the hilarious independence of a cat and have the added bonus of morphing into a means of transportation. Like giant, flying, fire-breathing horses. It’s taunting that the title is How to Train Your Dragon, but nowhere is there an explanation on how to find one. Does Ikea sell them? Walmart? Petsmart?
How to Train Your Dragon 2 carries on seamlessly from How to Train Your Dragon 1. It’s been almost five years since the first installment and clearly a few changes have taken place in our favourite Scottish-Viking village. A now 20-year-old Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has nearly perfected his dragon-riding technique with his partner and best friend, Toothless the Night Fury. As they practice their side-by-side gliding routine, Hiccup also engages in his new hobby of mapping the world. While on one of these outings, Hiccup discovers a ship of dragon hunters who work for the dreaded Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Drago’s evil plot (because what kind of animal rights activist has a name like Drago Bludvist?) is to amass a dragon army in order to… in order to… uh… rule the seven kingdoms? His original plan sort of missed me, but eventually we learn his reasoning is to build a dragon army which only he can control, because dragons under his command will only hurt the people he wants to hurt. Drago therefore sees Hiccup and his dragon-loving village as a colony of hippies who must be forced into submission or burned to the ground.
In direct contrast to Drago’s narrow-minded villainy and low, scratchy vocals is a brand new character who embodies freedom, fluidity, and heroism: Valka (Cate Blanchett), Hiccup’s long-lost and presumed-dead mother. She is the explanation to all of Hiccup’s natural quirks, plus she and Stoick (Gerard Butler) make an adorable couple. Whenever things get deep and Valka has a serious conversation with her son or tries to rekindle old flames with her husband, you can be sure to laugh off the drama with Toothless, the loyal family pet, who’s usually bouncing around like an idiot in the background. Moments like this keep up the pace of the film and never let it fall flat.
Unlike the first How to Train Your Dragon, Dragon 2 has more of a rolling pace. There is no one climax to work towards but rather a series of exciting events which snowball into one final pull for the finish. It’s a bit hectic, but still manages to toss in a few soft, dramatic moments. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not the typical, predictable family film. There are a few unexpected bits which totally caught me off guard.
And we’re still discovering things about Toothless. He is just as delightful as ever, and the perfect mix between pet, friend, guardian, and goofball. One of the best features of the first film was learning all about the dragons’ abilities and writer/director Dean DeBlois is clearly aware of this. He keeps the magic going in the sequel with further discoveries about Toothless and several new dragons. Sadly, though, no one in Berk is particularly eager to bring a Whispering Death home to the family.
The animation, meanwhile, is phenomenal. The style is uniquely How to Train You Dragon in the same way The Simpsons or Calvin and Hobbs have recognizable features. There’s the possibility of scenes getting messy, with thousands of wings flapping in the background while our hero fights in the foreground, but the animators pull it together and deliver a picture of beauty among the chaos. All the scales, bumps, thorns, and twitchy expressions add up to a stunning presentation of imagination.
Did I think it was as good as the first? That’s hard to say. The first was original and that’s a tough thing to top. However, How to Train Your Dragon 2 brought depth, backstory, and moved the plot forward with character development, leaving the possibility open for a third film (already in the works for 2016). I liked it, my almost-senior’s-ticket father liked it, and the four-year-old next to me who couldn’t stay seated for more than thirty seconds and who made appreciative farting noises when the characters were hip hip hooraying for Hiccup also seemed to like it so… 8/10.