Riding on the success of 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks seeks to make a bold statement in the animation world with writer/director Dean DeBlois’ How to Train Your Dragon 2. The evolution of our heroes and the expanded development of the dragon mythology makes for one of the most fascinating and exciting sequels ever. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the animated experience you cannot miss.
Five years after the events of How to Train Your Dragon, we find our viking friends living alongside dragons in peace and harmony. The dragons help make houses, create armor and tools, and even participate in an aerial sport involving sheep wrangling. While Astrid (America Ferrera) and the other young vikings – Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) – enjoy the cheers of the crowd, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is off avoiding responsibilities as the son of the Chief, exploring the world with his dragon Toothless. Together they chart new territories and find new species of dragons.
As Hiccup ventures into new land he stumbles upon Eret, Son of Eret (Kit Harington), the self-proclaimed greatest dragon trapper in the world. Eret has been tasked by a man named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) to bring him dragons for his army. But Eret and Drago aren’t the only ones who have been hoarding dragons. Hiccup soon discovers another dragon trainer by the name of Valka (Cate Blanchett) who has been saving and preserving dragons at her sanctuary – DO NOT watch any of the trailers if you’d like to avoid a big spoiler about this character. To ensure the safety of Berk and the dragons, Hiccup believes he is the only one who can convince Drago to call off his war before anyone gets hurt.
We’ve come a long way from a simple story about a boy and his dragon. DeBlois has dramatically upped the stakes in every aspect of Hiccup’s journey into manhood. With his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), pushing him to step up his duties as his successor, Hiccup begins to question his place in the world. Can he live up to his father’s name or is he meant to be a dragon trainer the rest of his life? And as the pressure builds, we see an interesting development with Hiccup, as well as Toothless, that position the characters in ways they never thought possible.
Like its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a handful of gorgeous and thrilling flying sequences; five years of practice has made Hiccup and the rest much more comfortable dragon riders. These flight scenes are paired with the beautiful score of John Powell once again. Everything about the animation is gorgeous, colorful, and carefully crafted to make the world of HTTYD more fun to revisit. People and dragons aren’t just sitting and talking, everything is in motion while characters engage with one another.
Adding to that fun is a new slew of featured dragons that come in all shapes and sizes. Although few display unique abilities like the ones held in the dragon arena in the first film, they each have a special design that helps them stand apart. They still act very much like curious, playful cats and loyal, loveable dogs. Valka’s Cloudjumper is really cool and the Bewilderbeasts are an enormous presence to see against the many little dragons. We are not only introduced to new dragons we also gain a slew of new secrets about them and their mythology thanks to Valka’s expertise.
While most of the HTTYD2 is tightly focused, there is a point in the middle that slightly meanders away from the main conflict against Drago. Slowing down the pace to inject a more emotional connection, there are some touching moments that had me wondering why someone was cutting onions in the theater. There is one scene in particular between Valka and Stoick where they sing a duet together – “For the Daring and the Dreaming” – that is absolutely heartwarming.
This influx of gooey warmth mixed in with the heat of battle gives little for our secondary characters to do. Astrid works as more of the cheerleader girlfriend, not nearly as the strong, outspoken leader she was before. The other young vikings pop in as comic relief. I’m not saying they’re unwelcome annoyances, I just wish they had a bit more to do. Snotlout and Fishlegs puberty gets the best of them as they fight for the attention of Ruffnut, while she has a hilarious arc with Eret that works on so many levels. Tuffnut has maybe one line. Gobber (Craig Ferguson) has some color commentary, but he isn’t a useful source of exposition this time around.
On the other end of the spectrum, the new characters are lively and well fleshed out. Eret, Son of Eret is very arrogant, a sell-sword of sorts, who doesn’t quite know his full potential. Drago is the blood thirsty embodiment of evil who lost his arm to dragons and now lives to enslave them and the world. And Valka is a curious and humble dragon whisperer who lives to protect the purity of dragons. All three new voice actors fit in their characters and are welcome editions to the HTTYD family. Both Drago and Valka impact Hiccup and Toothless in diverse ways that help strengthen the bond they have between each other. As the first human villain in the franchise, Drago is the right amount of evil to balance the purity of Valka.
Creating an animated sequel is no easy task, and Dean DeBlois knocked this one out of the ball park with How to Train Your Dragon 2. Funnier, larger, and with more awesome dragon action, HTTYD2 hits every beat effortlessly. The journey Hiccup and Toothless share together is game changing storytelling at its finest and makes for one of the best sequels of our time. They should have titled this film, “How to Build a Successful Franchise.”
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How to Train Your Dragon 2 is in theaters Friday, June 13. It was directed by Dean DeBlois with a run time of 102 minutes. This film has been rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.