In 2010, Dreamworks released How to Train Your Dragon, an animated film that became an instant success thanks to its loving blend of beautiful art, charming characters and innovative storytelling. It’s no secret that HTTYD is a labor of love, with spin-off television shows, extra shorts, and even musical productions that have won the franchise a loyal following and critical acclaim, even years after its smash release.
But can a sequel match up to the hype of a classic? That’s a question that I will try to answer with today’s review of this summer’s much anticipated animated film: How to Train Your Dragon 2.
And if you want my honest opinion, then I think that yes, HTTYD 2 sufficiently escaped the clutches of “sequel-itis”, and is not a hackneyed bit of fan service or some scrambling to try and grab box office sales. Rather, HTTYD 2 stands on its own, with a distinct tone and edge that satisfyingly sets it apart from its predecessor.
HTTYD 2 is set five years after Berk has adopted dragons into their midst, putting aside their swords for saddles and turning their bitter feud with the scaly beasts into a friendship that has benefited Vikings and dragons alike. Leading the charge for change are our heroes, Hiccup and his trusted companion, Toothless–though the responsibility of leading is not something that Hiccup particularly wants. His father, Stoick the Vast, chieftain of their Viking clan, insists that Hiccup is now ready to take on his duty as his heir–citing his many exploits to bring peace as positive proof that Hiccup can be a leader.
Though reluctant in his responsibility to Berk, Hiccup and Toothless must team up with their friends and family when new threats are found over the horizon. From swashbuckling dragon wranglers, to mysterious dragon riders, and even an entire dragon army–the dynamic duo and the dragon riders of Berk face their greatest challenge yet to try and keep the peace when danger looms ever closer.
Already, this film sets itself apart from its predecessor–turning away from the wonder and pure joy found in Hiccup and Toothless’s unlikely friendship, and instead seeking to make an epic. The scale is grander and the stakes are higher–this is no feud between Vikings and dragons who do not understand each other, this time around we have a villain, with a calculated agenda that basically spells doom and gloom for all involved.
And in the case of most “epic” narratives, it concerns the heroic exploits and growth of a character. Hiccup’s nature towards compassion and conversation is certainly tested by seemingly unreasonable forces–plus there’s all that angst of “responsibility” and “growing up” that carries throughout the film, along with other themes about “duty” and “family” and–much to my glee–“love“.
But of course, these kind of lofty ideas wouldn’t fly in an animated feature without characters to back it up.
HTTYD 2 brings back favorites from the first film and introduces us to some new faces that make it such a grand experience. From Stoick’s gruff exterior that belies his big heart, Astrid’s courage and confidence, to even the dragons–all designed with memorable personalities that simply shine through. I am happy to report that no one is background flavor; each character has a purpose and they do shine, whether for plot points or for those much-needed moments of charming wit and gags that balance the film.
And HTTYD 2’s storytelling and characters are of course enhanced by the stunning animation that works to bring these characters and this epic story to life. I gushed about the dragons and their personalities shining through–which is all thanks to the attention to detail found in their movements and unique body language designed by the animation team. Furthermore, the textures in this film–from skin to fur, to scales and armor, and everything in between is simply stunning to behold.
But what really makes the film is the 3D aspect of it. I never got to watch HTTYD in 3D so I promised myself I would watch its sequel and deal with the fiddly glasses–and it’s really, truly worth it. The sensation of flying and moving through clouds (and in some cases, water) is only enhanced by the 3D effects; if you can stand it, definitely try it in 3D for a literally moving experience.
Another big kudos for the film goes to the music, which enhances the tone and mood of scenes so perfectly. Sharp-eared listeners may even catch snippets of HTTYD‘s main theme rehashed and used within many of the OST’s tracks. If we’re moving towards the epic, the soundtrack has certainly evolved to match.
But of course, this film is not without some of its blunders. While we did get some lovely answers to questions raised in the first film, we also are left with more questions and even some untidy loose ends. There is also something definitely different about the first and second half of the film, with the slow, loving build of the first half and its many intricacies in sharp contrast to a second half that tries to wrap up too quickly, and too soon. Battles and character problems are resolved rather quickly–and the emotional push of the first half is more or less swept under the rug to wrap up the plot as neatly as possible.
BUT that quibble aside, this is a sequel that does not fall into the humdrum of being a sequel–it is its own epic with its own goal to expand the story of Hiccup, Toothless, and the dragons riders of Berk, testing them with harsh tasks that have the audience on the edge of their seats–cheering for them all the while. I have done my best to uh, be spoiler free as possible in this review, but I can guarantee that HTTYD 2 is a story that needs to be seen, one that is both fun and thought-provoking, and that takes the risk to fly higher.
The first film was a wonder to behold, and with this film, there is the promise of an epic that certainly makes me excited for what the final film will bring!
– Excellent animation and 3-D features.
– Superb musical score.
– Dragons and feelings
– Lagging second half.
– Some very loose ends that may not satisfy fans of the first film’s solid storytelling