“Hiccup and the gang have matured during their time away and so has the franchise.”
How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review
By Matt Allen
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kit Harrington, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou
Director(s): Dean DeBlois
Screenwrietr(s): Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell
Running Time: 102 minutes
Just like beards and right wing Euro-scepticism – dragons are back in fashion! If they’re not appearing in over indulgent prequel trilogies then they’re taking their sweet time in crossing the Narrow Sea to Westeros (and burning a few children alive along the way). Yes, the cyclical nature of human interest has come back around full circle to the days of fairy tales and the first stories. And who can blame us? Dragons are cool. This is fact. And in an attempt to capitalise on this, Dreamworks have released a follow-up to their hugely successful How to train Your Dragon.
Hiccup (Baruchel) and his dragon (Toothless) are forced to rally a resistance when the barbaric Drago (Hounsou) unleashes his own army of dragons on their peaceful home village.
It might sound like a Targaryen bedtime story but, unsurprisingly, HTTYD2 doesn’t quite reach the adult content seen in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. However, Dreamworks have made a point of taking their audience seriously and have decidedly chosen to treat the younger demographic with a level of respect that is not often offered to this market presumably for fear of alienating the kiddies. Hiccup and the gang have matured during their time away and so has the franchise.
The plot is more sophisticated than the usual ‘good triumphs over evil’ in as much as it explores the reality that sometimes, no matter how reasonable you might be or how much diplomacy you can apply to a conflict, the only recourse left is to stand up and fight. This, combined with the underlying and noble message that animal cruelty is wrong whereas respect and loyalty will be returned ten-fold, makes for a valuable and meaningful lesson. On top of this, the emotional stakes are much higher than traditionally expected in an animated feature; a bold move that certainly pays off.
But why get bogged down in the legitimacy of the morality contained within when there is so much visual stimuli to enjoy. Just as with the first film, the various dragons are the cherry on top of the animated cake. A mish-mash of the best qualities found in domestic pets of the real world and each with their own flavour and personality, the colourful composite creatures are simultaneously the comic relief and the crux of the action which is at its most beautiful as they cut through the clouds with awesome aerial acrobatics.
Most notable of the new characters additions is the brutal villain Drago. If Hiccup’s approach to dragon training is ‘the carrot’ then Drago is certainly ‘the whip’. The abusive war-lord oozes cruelty as he struts toward a captured dragon, barks in the face of its roar and then twists his heel into the snout finally subduing a beast ten times his size. Drago is proof that fear and intimidation can be wielded to control whereas Hiccup believes that well earned respect is far more powerful. Fight!
A firm step in the right direction for Dreamworks who are usually working hard to maintain a distant second place from Pixar. HTTYD2 finds the right balance of intelligent storytelling and fun-for-the-family action/adventure. With a trilogy almost a dead cert at this stage, the franchise might succeed where Shrek trailed off into repetitive nausea.