So when the first How to Train Your Dragon trailers rolled across my TV screen I was, absurdly in retrospect, quite sceptical about the film. I thought it would be a film only for kids and would only add to the slew of bad and mediocre films DreamWorks were producing since Flushed Away, with Kung Fu Panda being the only anomaly at the time. But I was wrong. I’ll admit that. How to Train Your Dragon was a phenomenal success that put DreamWorks firmly back in contention with Disney and Pixar.
However with any film that is successful nowadays, especially if it’s in DreamWorks’ hands, How to Train Your Dragon is set for sequelisation and I was very, very worried about it. Who doesn’t worry about great movies getting terrible sequels? Especially with DreamWorks’ record, with the prime example being Shrek the Third.
But all those worries faded after seeing the first amazing trailer and one tweet from fellow blogger Thy Critic Man who said that the How to Train Your Dragon franchise would be the next Toy Story franchise. Wow, that is a huge accolade given to the How to Train Your Dragon movies, possibly the highest for all animated movies. That should be its own award category at the Oscars. But the question is, is it that good?
Simply answer: No. Nothing is as good as the Toy Story trilogy. But, considering how good it is, it’s not far off. So let’s stop pussy-footing about and let’s jump into the obligatory overview!
So its five years since the events of How to Train Your Dragon and all seems well in Berk. Vikings and dragons are living in harmony, with sheep now used in a dragon-riding sports event. Hiccup and Toothless however are broadening the Vikings map of the world, meeting with new peoples as they go. However Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America Ferrera), who appear to be going pretty steady, see something odd in the distance on one map-building exercise. Going towards it they find dragon trappers led by Eret (Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame) who is working for Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) to amass a dragon army.
Upon learning this, Hiccup and Astrid return to tell Stoick who orders the village to fortify itself and prepare for battle. Hiccup, believing he can change Drago’s mind, sets off to find him despite Stoick’s warnings otherwise. And so the begins the quest for dragons, Drago and a mysterious dragon rider.
Now I know most people would have commented on the fantastic animation, voice acting, storyline, etc., etc. But that’s not going to be the main thrust of this review. We all know that that stuff is awesome, or if you haven’t seen the film, have suspected that it would be awesome. And it is. This review is going to the smaller bits that I found the intriguing.
One of the best things about this film is probably one of the most obvious things you saw in this film. The characters aged. I know that about as obvious as saying the Earth is round but when you think about it, it really is something special.
When you think about it, most animated films do not change their main characters’ no matter how many movies they are in. They either remain the same age eternally or retain their youthful complexion despite minor aging. How to Train Your Dragon 2 took a look at this generic formula and thought “To hell with this”. The main characters have grown up and that physical change made me sit up and take attention to this film.
While I’ll admit most of the adults look the same, there aren’t meant to change much because they have fully grown. But having young teens grow up into young adults? Well that may be truly revolutionary. Unless aging over the entire movie like The Lion King or The Incredibles, most characters will get to an age where they stop changing their physiology and, although the How to Train Your Dragon franchise only has two movies under its belt, it is challenging the norms in a way that felt fresh and innovative.
What was also impressive was the fact that Dean DeBlois was not afraid to take the limelight away from Hiccup from time to time. While Hiccup unquestionably remained the main character, time was given to show how the other characters had moved along since the first film. The growth of Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are both vying for the attention of Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) while she is infatuated with certain traits of Eret, Stoick is trying to groom Hiccup to be chief of Berk, and Gobber is still there to deliver brilliant one-liners.
However this is also where I had a couple of niggles with the film. Astrid was an independent character with all her own strengths and weaknesses in the first film. She was clearly defined and wasn’t dependent on anyone. Now, although still much the same, she is much more reliant on Hiccup.
I know that Hiccup and Astrid are in a loving and caring relationship (and all the bile and venom within me clawed against me while I wrote that so be grateful for this) but Astrid was a cool, if antagonistic, character in the first film. In this film however, Astrid fumbles into generic girlfriend and, while she does have her strong moments, it’s more often than not to big up Hiccup rather than herself.
So if Dean DeBlois is reading this, please give Astrid more to do and reassert her as a more prominent character. I know you had to make room for the mysterious dragon rider… Ok, it’s Hiccup’s mum Valka (Cate Blanchett) but we all knew that from the trailers. But seriously, give Astrid a little bit more screen time. Oh and give Tuffnut some character too other than generic annoying twin brother.
Another thing that seemed a slight step backwards for the film was actually the villain. While Drago is a fine villain who is as about as hateable as a combination of Joseph Stalin, Joffrey Baratheon and Ricky Gervais, he falls into generic bad guy territory. The first film had the Vikings themselves as the antagonist, but it was a nuanced antagonism as you initially saw the dragons from the Vikings perspective. However Drago is just your generic bad guy with no redeeming qualities. He’s set up as a madman and fulfils that prophecy without much of a hint that he was different prior to his appearance in the film. A villain with more sides is a better villain, but a villain who is just evil for the sake of being evil was a bit of a cop out.
Finally, and treading very, very very finely on the spoiler line, one scene for me dragged just a little too long. It was that emotional scene. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film, if you haven’t go and watch it now so you will understand. But so I won’t spoil I’ll just say this. They talk for too long. The scene was touching and expertly executed, but if it had been just a bit more compact I feel it would have been brilliant. Or, alternatively, they could have had it at the end of the film before the ending. That way they could have done a greater contrast between remembrance and vitality. I’ve probably said too much already so I’m going to move on now.
Those criticisms withstanding, the film is brilliant. It’s imaginative, fun, funny, the characters are great, the relationships are wonderfully depicted, especially one song scene (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film) and of course many overly cute dragons. If you haven’t seen it, go and see it now and most definitely buy it on DVD/Blu-Ray. It is definitely worth your money.
I apologise for this review being a day late but it’s better late than never I guess. Thanks for reading this though and, if you want to see more of my review, follow me here on WordPress, or on Facebook or Twitter. Also, if you want to write a guest blog for me, then send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for reading!