Genre: Family, Action and Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig
Release Date: June 13th, 2014
There is a sense of pure majesty at the beginning of the new animated feature How to Train Your Dragon 2. After creating a distinct world in the original, discount writer/director Dean DeBlois opens this feature by showing the worlds of Vikings and dragons converging as one. With fear about the dragons overcome, view the Vikings are now adopting dragons and racing them around the island of Berk as if harmony always existed between the two worlds.
The wise Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is even getting in on the fun as he finds a unique way to fly along with Toothless, capsule his beloved dragon. Hiccup has grown since his first adventure and so have the villagers, who now recognize that Hiccup’s sometimes naïve idealism can lead them to a better world. Of course, the world hasn’t changed as quickly as Berk and much of this second film focuses on individuals learning about and appreciating how Berk has changed.
The character of Valka (Cate Blanchett) enters into the proceedings— I won’t spoil her true identity— as someone who was open-minded about dragons but closed-minded about people. For a long time, she understood the beauty of dragons but she couldn’t overcome the fear that others would never get to know dragons as the majestic figures that they are. So instead of working with others or fighting the tough arguments that Hiccup fought in the original, she ran away. On the other hand, Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is a new character as well who arrives with an absolute hatred of dragons– he wants them all under his control— but uses dragons themselves to help build his army (“You need dragons to conquer other dragons,” he argues.)
Neither of these characters has the wisdom or the insight of Hiccup and that’s one of the greatest lessons of this feature.
There are times when adults here, who have so much life experience, lose sight of their goals and become enmeshed in their own thinking. It takes the teenage Hiccup to change their minds. As Hiccup learns to his dismay though, some minds can’t be changed (“Men who kill without reason cannot be reasoned with,” Hiccup’s father— voiced by Gerard Butler– states).
In a recent interview I conducted with DeBlois, he noted that much of this feature served as a homage to The Empire Strikes Back. Those comparisons are readily apparent. Not only is the idealistic Hiccup faced with some tragedies in his young life (as Luke once was), he’s also a participant in a story that has a beginning and an end. This feature doesn’t feel like an unnatural child of the original’s success. It feels like the second chapter in an ongoing story and with that in mind, it offers up a power and resonance that other sequels– which are often made simply to replicate a predecessor’s formula– lack.
Like its predecessor, How to Train your Dragon 2 is packed with warmth, humor and energy. There are a few throw-away moments (watching one dragon consume another’s vomit could’ve been easily excised). Overall though, the animated children’s film continues the strong legacy of this series and proves that this dragon shows no chance of slowing down anytime soon.
Review by: John Hanlon