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Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Directed by: Dean DeBlois

Premise: A sequel to the 2010 film. Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless explore the land outside of their village and discover that a warlord is capturing all the dragons and using them for an army.

What Works: The original How to Train Your Dragon was an outstanding animated feature. That movie succeeded at nearly every level, telling a story that was accessible enough for children while engaging adult viewers, and it featured fully developed characters and delivered laughs and thrills in equal measure. The filmmakers of the sequel manage to equal and in some respects exceed their predecessor and How to Train Your Dragon 2 is as an exceptional follow-up. One of the most notable things about this film is how well it fulfills its duties as a sequel. Among the common mistakes found in sequels is a tendency to play things too safe and thoughtlessly repeat the same scenarios of the original picture. Sequels should revise and expand the understandings of the original film and push the characters to a new level. How to Train Your Dragon 2 does that. The original film was primarily about Hiccup becoming a man and reconciling his troubled relationship with his father. With that accomplished, the filmmakers now present Hiccip with the challenge of growing into his duty to his community with the expectation that he will become the leader of the village. The escalation of Hiccup’s development is paralleled with the broader story world and the elevated danger of war. The filmmakers choose some smart and bold storytelling decisions, such as giving Hiccup a mission that turns out to be folly and allowing him to fail.  One of the other impressive storytelling decisions of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is to unexpectedly kill off a familiar character. One of the problems of recent family-friendly movies is an unwillingness to do anything too upsetting; if Bambi were made today it is unlikely that the mother would be allowed to die. Allowing the hero to fail and killing off one of the characters elevates the credibility of How to Train Your Dragon 2, putting more at stake, giving the story some dramatic gravitas, and allowing Hiccup greater room to grow as a character. 

What Doesn’t: The action scenes of How to Train Your Dragon 2 are sometimes difficult to follow. The filmmakers don’t establish the geography of their scenes and as the dragons and their riders zoom in and around ice and rock formations it is unclear where they are going. When the focus of the action scenes jumps from one group of riders to another it is unclear how to the two groups relate to each other in terms of space and geography but also in regard to the purpose of the scene. The action set pieces have a lot of impressive imagery but there’s never any exposition about what the heroes or the villains are trying to accomplish and so the action often lacks a coherent purpose. One of the major story additions of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the introduction of Hiccup’s mother Valka (voice of Cate Blanchett). She’s a compelling character but the family drama comes up short. Her character was believed to be dead and it’s revealed that she’s been living as a hermit and caring for a dragon sanctuary. As soon as she, Hiccup and his father Stoick (voice of Gerard Butler) are reunited as a family everything is fine; despite the fact that she left her son and husband to believe she was dead there is no animosity nor is there any learning curve for her as a mother. This is stretching the credibility of the movie a bit far, even for a story about dragons.

Bottom Line: How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a very good sequel. Even though some of the action sequences are frantic to the point of being sloppy, the focus on character and story gives the movie an edge over most other animated films and over most sequels in general.

Episode: #496 (June 22, 2014)