How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dean DeBlois, 2014)
Let’s be clear about one thing: the latest animated feature from Dreamworks, sequel to its successful 2010 How to Train Your Dragon (based on the book of the same title) is not a great film. It is, however, quite lovely in its own way, with breathtaking images rendered in beautiful 3D animation, and a story that, though predictable, is nevertheless entertaining, meaningful and uplifting. We may know who is going to die and how the film is going to end, but that doesn’t take away from the pleasure of the narrative. Plus, it’s good family fun, with the typical fairy-tale coming-of-age lesson about being true to oneself and doing good unto others (for the most part). What’s not to like? Well, OK, originality is always a good thing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to cherish in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
To be honest, I couldn’t really remember the plot of the first film. I knew there was a Viking kid who went against the societal norms of his village by not killing a dragon, befriending it instead and then convincing the entire local population – including his gruff chieftain father – to follow suit. I remembered finding it charming. But that was it. It didn’t seem to matter much, however. I was pulled right unto the new story.
As How to Train Your Dragon 2 begins, it is 5 years later, and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) – that Viking Kid – is now a 20-year-old wanderer, scared of the responsibilities his father – tired of leading – wishes to foist upon him. He and his dragon, Toothless, fly far afield, exploring new lands. Occasionally they are accompanied by his band of fellow younger Vikings, including his betrothed, Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera). On one such foray, they come across a group of dragon hunters, who work for a mysterious dragon-master warlord named, not surprisingly, Drago (and voiced, when we finally meet him, by Djimon Hounsou). Hiccup being Hiccup, he decides to find this Drago and reason with him to stop hunting dragons.
Well, things don’t work out the way Hiccup planned, and some bad things happen as a result. But then some better things happen as a result of the lessons learned from the bad things. You’ve seen this kind of film before: arrogant youth who refuse to listen to their elders must learn the hard way that sometimes they don’t know everything. Unfortunately, the hard way can – as it is here – be actually quite difficult and dangerous.
Still, along the way, we get strikingly designed sequences of flying dragons that are truly stunning. And we get much humor and cuteness. The dragons are mostly dog-like, so if you are a fan of canine companions, you will enjoy their depiction. True, dogs don’t spit fire – at least, mine doesn’t! – but these dragons don’t spit fire unless you make them really mad. Treat them well and they’re like, well, dogs.
We also meet a brand new female character, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett), whose exact role I will avoid spelling out to let the one possible surprise in the film catch you by . . . surprise. She’s a woman who’s made some questionable choices in her life, and one of the fine aspects of the screenplay is that it refuses to judge her for the path taken. This makes up for the fact that Astrid is less interesting than she was in the first film.
So, if you have kids, take them to see it. It’s a well-crafted piece of slick commercial entertainment, with a good heart and a worthy moral center. And since the 3D really is well-designed, I recommend you see it in a cinema, rather than at home. Have fun!