Nutshell: I’d give How To Train Your Dragon 2 an A. An intelligent film that not only entertains without pandering to it’s audience, but manages the Empire Strikes Back-like superpower of being better than it’s already fabulous predecessor. Grab some popcorn, swoon over Toothless, and don’t forget some Kleenex. No spoilers, but you may need ’em.
What a difference 5 years makes, amirite? When the Viking town of Berk — and more specifically, the chief’s only son Hiccup — first discovered that dragons could be freakin’ awesome instead of freakin’ terrifying, it took some time for things to settle in. I like to think that the absolute adorableness of Toothless the Night Fury had a good bit to do with that. (And if you think he kinda resembles Stitch, you’re not wrong; director Dean DeBlois also helmed Lilo & Stitch. Perhaps the two creatures are related?)
Anyway, How To Train Your Dragon 2 gives fans of the first film more of what they love; dragons, dragon riding, moments of anthropomorphic bliss, and a boo-hiss-able bad guy that Our Gang manages to overcome by the film’s end. (What, did you think a kids film would let the bad guy win? You don’t get out much, do you?) New dragon types are introduced, love is in the air, and Dreamworks manages to top itself yet again in the animation department. If you’re looking for a summertime film to enjoy with the little ones in your life, this is it. The storyline in this film makes sense, and is more than just an excuse to trot out more dragons. Not that I’m hating on dragons, but after the first film’s home-run, it would have been disappointing if HTTYD2 suffered from sophomore slump. Luckily, it’s just as good as the first, if not better. Better? A’yup more dragons + more powerful story = more better. Yeah, I’m that easy.
Not to say that everything is sunshine and roses in this installment. With Big Bad dragon tamer Drago (villainously voiced by Djimon Hounsou) looking to subdue every dragon every dragon in the world, including the dragons of Berk, there’s gonna be all-out dragon/Viking war y’all. Not every dragon — or Viking — comes out fine at the end. Dreamworks, and director DeBlois took a big chance by going a bit dark on this film, and it pays off. That might not make this film 100% sweet to some, but for me it raised the bar, and showed that not every animated film needs to underestimate it’s target audience. Nicely done.
What also makes this sequel worthy of a look is the talent behind it. The voice actors from the first film are back, and thank goodness; some have said that a “more masculine” voice for Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) would have been better now that the dragon rider is in his late teens. Those people are stupid. Baruchel, America Fererra (Astrid) Craig Ferguson (Gobber), Jonah Hill (Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut), T.J. Miller (Tuffnut) lend their own personal je ne sais quoi that connects the films. Other actors? Wouldn’t be the same.
Not only are Our Gang ready for new adventures (and young love?), they’re joined by new voices ready to jump right in. Along with Hounsou’s Drago, Kit “You know nothing, Jon Snow” Harington plays dragon thief Eret, and Cate Blanchett is Hiccups thought-to-be-lost mother Valka. Blanchett and Gerard Butler (as Hiccup’s dad and clan chief Stoick) work well together, their voices bouncing off the other nicely. Valka also serves as a guide to a whole new world of dragons, including one so spectacular you’ll have to see it to believe it. Okay fine; it’s a Bewilderbeast, and it’s a-maaaaa-zing.
But what about Toothless, you ask? He’s definitely more playful and fun in HTTYD2, and I started to wonder if the other, larger dragons were more dangerous/powerful. But I needn’t have worried; the climax for HTTYD2 gives Toothless plenty of time to strut his stuff. As Drago digs into the inevitable showdown between his “dragon army” and the dragons & people of Berk, there’s more than one moment where it’s difficult to see how Our Gang will come through it and prevail. And here’s where DeBlois takes viewers on a darker, more realistic ride. In real life, war has consequences, and so they do here in HTTYD2. And when the darkness hits, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater. Bravo for DeBlois for “going there” and pulling no punches. My only problem? When does How To Train Your Dragon 3 come out? (Hint: it’s currently scheudled for a July 2016 release.) Oscar Watch: look for “Where No One Goes” by Jónsi and HTTYD2‘s composer John Powell to get a nomination for Best Original Song, and for Powell to get another nod to match his nomination for How To Train Your Dragon. The music is big, beautiful and sometimes downright spooky. It’s a perfect fit for the film. So. Go see Toothless and the gang already. You know you wanna.