Ever since 1995 when Pixar came out with the revolutionary “Toy Story” they have dominated the animation genre. Few companies could match their consistent output of high quality projects. Things started to change, however, in 2010 thanks to two movies, Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon.” “Toy Story 3” was the end of an era, one that Pixar hasn’t been able to duplicate since, and “How to Train You Dragon” proved that somebody else could create an emotionally satisfying and imaginative animated film that can captivate kids and parents alike.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” proves that the original was no fluke, creating the most promising new franchise in the animated genre both visually and story wise. “HTTYD 2” is bigger than its predecessor and raises the stakes for Hiccup, Toothless and company, but like a lot of sequels, bigger doesn’t always mean better. The film has a hard time matching the emotional journey of Hiccup, but it is still a satisfying ride for all ages.
First off, lets just acknowledge how gorgeous this film looks. If you were impressed by the animation in “Frozen,” prepare yourself to be floored by the vistas that “HTTYD 2” puts forth. The team of animators did a spectacular job, but they had a little help from DP master Roger Deakins. The landscapes and colors that are used in this film make it such a treat to just look at the sound could have been broken and the images would still hold your attention.
Now, let’s remember where we left with Hiccup and the Vikings of Burke. The sequel picks up five years after the original ended with Vikings and dragons living together in peace. Hiccup, who spends most of his time exploring farther and farther with his dragon Toothless, must decide whether he will follow in his father’s footsteps and become chief or if some other destiny awaits him. Things get even more complicated when someone from Hiccup’s past returns and an invading force threatens Burke’s way of existence.
Like I said earlier, the stakes are definitely raised this time around. The film takes on a slightly darker tone as a result. Sure, plenty of humor still remains, but the opposing force that the lead character must deal with is a much more prominent part of the story. The first film’s big bad was a gigantic dragon that only shows up for the climax to serve as a force to rally Hiccup and his father together on. This time, the villainous Drago is a threat that looms large throughout, even though he only shows up with about forty-five minutes to go.
This makes for a more intense finish. There is a large-scale battle with dragons fighting dragons, Burke’s very existence is on the line and Hiccup must go through a gut-wrenching loss. Of course, because it is an animated film, the darker leanings of the film must be resolved rather quickly, and while that makes some of the final actions seem a little more convenient than earned, you find yourself caught up in it.
Surprisingly, where the sequel fails is where the first film was so successful – Hiccup’s personal journey. The middle of the film tries to set up a conflict for him between choosing his father’s way of life or that of his rediscovered mother, but they don’t capitalize on it. Instead it boils down to a family reunion where Hiccup can get the best of both worlds. Though it doesn’t play out exactly like that in the end, it’s pretty close. It covers the bases in the sense, that yes, Hiccup changes from beginning of the film to the end, but only slightly and not nearly as satisfying as the original.
Still, the collaborative effort from writer/director Dean DeBlois, the voice cast of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, America Ferrera, Djimon Hounsou and others and all the technical people who made this film is top notch. Hands down it is the best-animated sequel that has come out since “Toy Story 3.”
DreamWorks is planning a trilogy, maybe even a fourth film, for “How to Train You Dragon.” If they can continue to churn out exciting, breathtaking and charming films like “How to Train Your Dragon 2” and its predecessor, then DreamWorks may have a thing or two to teach Pixar about making sequels that capture the same spirit and enjoyment of prior successes.