I put off seeing the original How To Train Your Dragon for a long time because the tittle was incredibly stupid. When I finally gave in to watching it, my expectations were incredibly low. As a result, the experience of watching that wonderful film were exhilarating. So going into the sequel, my hopes were high.
And the movie met my expectations.
(SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FIRST MOVIE)
How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up 5 years after the end of the first film. Dragons have been successfully been integrated into life in the Viking village of Berk. Our main characters have grown into young adults and our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) feels the pressure to become an adult. But he sees this as living a life a boring responsibility and foregoing his adventures and explorations with his best friend/pet dragon Toothless.
But then Hiccup comes across a band of dragon trappers that work for the mysterious Drago (Djimon Honsou) who is building a dragon army. When Hiccup tells his father Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), the order is given to lock down and prepare for war. However Hiccup decides that he can talk to Drago and change his mind as he did the people of Berk in the first film. Along the way he encounters a mysterious dragon rider who knows more about dragons that he does. I do not want to spoil the rest of the story, but there are some nice twists (though many of them spoiled in the trailers).
The main struggle is between idealism and cynicism, between optimism and pessimism, between diplomacy and war. One of the best things about this movie is that it does not over simplify the issue. Too often, especially in children's movies, things are too one-sided. Hiccup's idealism comes off as both admirable and naive. Stoick's overprotectivenss comes off as both reactionary and understandable. The movie gives enough nuance to show that the answer is not always that simple. If Hiccup didn't try to turn people away from violence, then his father and the rest of Berk would never have grown into better people. But does that mean that everyone will change if given the chance?
Another important thing that the movie addresses is the importance of marriage and family. While there is a burgeoning romance between Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera), it is downplayed. But Hiccup understands that as he gets older there is a seriousness that comes with adulthood that includes marriage. There are some great laughs too as Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fight over the rough-around-the-edges Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig). But one of the other relationships carries with it a gravity and an affection that is very moving. When you watch it, you can see that things like marriage and family are truly special.
(I want to take a small digression here regarding the character Gobber (Craig Ferguson) being gay. The producers and the actor have all confirmed Gobber's orientation. I don't want to comment here about what this means in the overall culture wars, but I think it should be addressed, especially for parents who are concerned about the content of the movies that Hollywood puts out. The extent to which Gobber's orientation is discussed is one line. Gobber sees a married couple and says, "That's why I never got married. That and one other reason." There is no other mention or reference to it again. In fact, if the makers of the movie had not said that Gobber was gay, I wouldn't have noticed this at all. I would have assumed it was because of something like his shyness or his mutilation (he is missing limbs). But even knowing, I see nothing conflicting with Catholic morality here. In fact, Gobber seems to embrace voluntary celibacy, which is perfectly in line with Church teaching.)
The visuals in the movie are fantastic. Director Dean DeBlois captures the thrill of flying in a way few movies have. He gives the movie visual textures that are tangible and the action is fluid and dynamic. And the score by John Powell soars. DeBlois shows real skill in terms of plot and pacing as well. He knows just when to go for the laughs, but he keeps the danger real. In fact, (MILD SPOILER) there are people who die in this movie, which parents should be aware of before bringing small children. I am not saying this is a detraction. On the contrary, it gave he movie even more emotional weight. It made the choices the characters made more poignant and the stakes more real. I was almost moved to tears and I found myself on the edge of my seat in a way that I wasn't expecting for a children's movie.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is fantastic film and a worthy successor to the first. I cannot wait to see what comes next.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.