No one expected much out of How to Train Your Dragon. If the long title wasn’t off-putting enough, the fact that Dreamworks hadn’t put out a really good movie in a long time could have provided doubts. It was released in 2010, the same year as Toy Story 3, so if anything, it was looked at as a cute animated film to keep kids entertained until the release of that. But no one expected the smart, witty, well acted, and beautifully animated feature that they got. I really, really liked the original How to Train Your Dragon, and so did most people. Now there’s a TV series based on it and now there’s (wait for it… wait for it…) the sequel. Just as this weekend’s other release 22 Jump Street poked fun at, Hollywood loves to make sequels. They’re not always bad, but a lot of times they are. This is not one of those times. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is every bit as fun as the original and then some. It’s high quality family entertainment.
There is one singular descriptive factor that seems to be plaguing movies these days and that is “dark and gritty.” It seems to have started with The Dark Knight and hasn’t really slowed down since. This film is no exception. I was actually shocked about halfway through at how dark things were getting. The baddie in this one is really bad for a typical kids movie, but that’s not what this is. No, much like How to Train Your Dragon and the best animated features, Dragon 2 is a smart family film. One that has a lot of dialogue only teens and adults will understand. This is not made for a singular demographic. It has something for everyone. Little ones will be excited to see the dragons flying around and seeing Toothless being cute as a puppy, but the movie offers so much more. It’s rich in character development, offering a few nice twists and really further realizing the world that has been set up. But as I said, the movie is dark, and that brings us to the story.
This film picks up five years after the events of the original, where Berk is now an island devoted to keeping dragons safe, thanks to our main character Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel, who is absolutely perfect for the character yet again). When he stumbles upon an island made of ice, he encounters a dragon hunter (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, offering a very nice voice performance that is vastly different from Jon Snow) and his men who are determined to capture dragons and give them to the mysterious Drago (sound kind of similar to Drogo, Game of Thrones fans? That’s what I thought anyway). What follows is a really tight knit and fast paced film that gets more right than most animated sequels. Maybe it’s the darker tone that makes it superior. I can’t say, but it’s definitely a factor. But it’s not all serious. The movie is quite funny. It even finds this nice way to place the humor in the middle of the drama. Characters will be having dramatic conversations that us adults are focused in on while in the background the dragons are playing which will entertain the children. That, to me, was a very nice way to do it as opposed to constantly shifting the tone from funny to dramatic. It worked. Speaking of funny, Gerard Butler returns to the role of Stoik and he has a great time and Jonah Hill doesn’t have a huge role but it’s worth noting that it’s interesting to have him in two sequels releasing on the same weekend. Cate Blanchett has a role I will not spoil but her voice work is top notch and arguably the best the film offers up, which is saying a lot. This movie gets nearly everything right, which is a huge surprise, but there is one problem I had with it and that is the character of Ruffnut, voiced by Kristen Wiig. I found her character to be actually really annoying as she continuously voiced her obvious attraction to a character and the means by which she did it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was really just wanting her to be off screen. Gratefully, she had only a few lines so it doesn’t really affect my overall thoughts of the film that much.
It’s rare to have a movie like How to Train Your Dragon 2. It seems to have everything working against it, but it really works. The first film was a very, very good movie, but instead of treading the same ground another time for more income, writer/director Dean DeBlois delves deeper into this world and broadens it, allowing the audience to sit back and look at this world for what it is and how it affects the characters that are evolving throughout it. There are also some really standout emotional scenes, one of which involves Toothless being compromised and Hiccup trying to get through to him that had me saying to myself “this is a really, really great scene.” How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t even try to play it safe. It’s dark and brooding, yet witty and kid-friendly. It’s intelligent storytelling mixed with beautiful animation. It’s wondrous.