How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
It was no surprise to me that Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ “How to Train Your Dragon” became a big hit upon its release because the story is heartwarming, the animation is visually striking, and the script offers magical, funny, and genuinely sensitive moments. It is perfect for children and adults because the themes it deals with, despite dragons being at the forefront, are relevant and relatable. The dragon can symbolize a pet or a new sibling.
“How To Train Your Dragon 2” is a less impressive sequel but one that still entertains. It looks even better than the original—which is a statement because the predecessor has set a standard on how animated aerial acrobatics ought to look like and how they can transport the audience into an experience. However, although the sequel tries to be as good as the original, it has enough shortcomings script-wise that prevent one from being fully immersed into the central conflict. That is, the looming threat of Drago Bludvist (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) and his army of dragons.
“Expansion” is the word that comes to mind. Although his father (Gerard Butler) wishes to make him chief of Berk, a place where Vikings and dragons have learned to co-exist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) does not feel that leading his village is the right path for him to take. He would rather ride on the back of his dragon named Toothless, explore unknown lands, and create a map of his discoveries. The film does a good job in making us feel that there is more to its universe than Berk, its dragons, and people. If another sequel were to be made some time in the future, it would be interesting to see what other creatures and cultures reside in undiscovered archipelagos.
It is surprising that the film comes up short when it comes to subtle characterization because that is one of the greatest strengths of its predecessor. Here, although Hiccup and Toothless do get a few cute and amusing interactions, we never get a chance to see their relationship advance or evolve in a meaningful way. There is an emotional scene between them that takes place in the latter half which comes across disingenuous. There is no believable drama there because an arc has not been established.
Most disappointing is its treatment of the side characters—especially Hiccup’s friends. They have a handful one-liners worthy of a few chuckles but they do not really do anything substantial that can change the game completely.
Astrid (America Ferrera) is Hiccup’s romantic interest. Although she is somewhat interesting to watch because she has gusto and is able to handle herself in tricky situations, like the other young Vikings, she appears and disappears to the script’s convenience, seemingly only there to say a few lines of exposition or to set up a joke. It is as if the writers—William Davies, Dean DeBois, and Chris Sanders—have forgotten that the target audience is children. Thus, shouldn’t the younger characters get more dimension and not be relegated to cardboard cutouts?
I very much appreciated the material’s willingness to tackle more mature themes such as reconnecting with family. My favorite scene was when a character sings to reignite the past even though the film is no musical. The song is there not to be catchy or cute or sell the soundtrack. It is there because it holds meaning to particular characters and we are there witness a beautiful and touching moment. I wished that the picture commanded that level of insight and power throughout.