To be considered a great animated film, one of the best, is to cause the audiences to believe that this particular story couldn’t have been told in any other medium; that, if it had been live action it would have been a disservice. Animation, while often marketed towards children, has a vast amount of tools at their disposal to create worlds upon worlds that even the best live action films couldn’t replicate. When the right innovative voice is behind a film something remarkable and moving can result from it and director Dean DeBlois has created something quite special indeed with How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Set five years after the first film we see out hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon pal Toothless have grown in their adventures, traveling the world trying to discover as much about where they live as well as themselves. Hiccup is trying to avoid the responsibility that comes with being an adult after his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) tells him he wants to name him Chief of Berk in his retirement. Soon the relative peace is disturbed when two strangers enter his life: Valka (Cate Blanchett) a mysterious woman from his past and Drago Blodfist (Djimon Hounsou) a dragon keeper who plans to control the animals for power. It’s up to Hiccup to face his past and his present and reconcile the two in order to save the humans and dragons he loves.
On a base line aesthetic level this film is impeccably made. Pixar has been aptly commended over the years for its beautiful landscapes and character design but Dreamworks may have their trump card in the How to Train Your Dragon series. The flying sequences are noteworthy for the childlike exuberance they exude and how fully immersive they are. Berk is a fully realized world, vibrant and lively and brimming with colorful characters. The detail is astounding and if you’re a visual junkie the details on the dragons, particularly Toothless, will be enough of a treat. You certainly can see Roger Deakin’s fingerprints on the film.
Luckily if you’re also looking for a story that packs a punch you’ll also be sitting down for the right film. People often dismiss animated films as being either dismissive with their messages or overly sanctimonious; this film simply gets straight to the root of the matter. It’s about discovering oneself, friendship and growing older. Nothing more or less, nothing deeper to look into, it’s a coming of age story. In the first film Hiccup had to convince his father that the dragons didn’t pose a threat to their livelihood and the sequel is about Hiccup proving to himself that he has what it takes to lead.
If this all sounds a little more adult than the first one it’s because just as the characters have matured so has the story. As with the first film there are pricey stakes of the battles the motley characters find themselves in-there are consequences and the film makes sure to balance the dark with the light. It’s a way to fully include audiences, the young and the old.
The score by the returning John Powell (with the opening song by Jonsi reacquainting us with the world) is a story told on its own. Powell has again crafted a score that calls upon whimsy during the softer, character moments and the explosive sound during the grandeur side. His score is one I don’t feel shame admitting that I often have on repeat.
All in all, this was a fantastic piece of filmmaking. It was exciting, moving, warm and imaginative in a way that makes me love the movie going experience. There’s something grand about this tale about a boy and his pet dragon that allows the heart of the story to shine through. There’s a lot to be said about the film from the artistry to the score to the storytelling but all in all it’s the simple boy and his best friend narrative that ties it all together and makes it something great.
A lovely, fun film that will surely stay at the top of my list by the years end, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is in theaters now.