Hiccup and Toothless fly through the clouds, gliding over water and unexplored lands. The two are the closest of friends and could clearly spend every moment of the day together. Their bond allows them to depend on and trust one another. And this long moment of unadulterated joy helps to relink us to the world, to make us remember everything that was good about “How To Train Your Dragon”.
Everyone is back to reprise their roles. Jay Baruchel turns as Hiccup, the son of the Viking King Stoic (Gerard Butler). Thanks to Hiccup and Toothless, their little kingdom now accepts dragons of all kinds, harboring them and giving them sanctuary as pets. Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) ride their dragons out, exploring the vast areas around them. Hiccup, now older, seems determined to chart all of the unexplored lands. One day, Hiccup stumbles upon pirates who are trying to capture dragons for Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has an old score to settle with Stoic, but he escapes and stumbles upon a dragon sanctuary protected by his long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). Hiccup brings mother and father together again just in time to battle Drago. Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller all return as Hiccup and Astrid’s friends. Craig Ferguson plays Gobber, Stoic’s confidant and friend. Kit Harrington (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) does the voice of Eret, a pirate trying to help Drago round up dragons for his army.
Written and directed by Dean Deblois (“How to Train Your Dragon”, “Lilo & Stitch”), both of the “Dragon” films are beautiful to watch. The animation depicting Hiccup and Toothless flying through the vast wilderness and over the oceans, high in the sky, is simply breathtaking. All of the characters and backgrounds are also created in a lush way, giving them depth, interest and viability.
The animators realize the animated flying is good, because it seems to dominate this sequel, allowing less time for character interaction and development.
And this is where the film falters. The minor characters, who provided so much of the comedy for the first film, are more or less ignored. The main focus of this sequel is Hiccup’s mom, Valka, how the family interacts and reunites with her and their big battle with Drago. “Dragon 2” seems to be borrowing a bit from classic Disney films, introducing a parental figure only to put them in peril, forcing the younger offspring to grow up faster. Any film with Cate Blanchett is good, but the film needs more comedy and hijinks.
The real triumph is in the animation of Toothless. I have read that he was designed to resemble one of Miyazaki’s characters and the animators have given him all of the characteristics of a puppy or kitty. It is really fun to watch him bound around and tease Hiccup before tackling and licking the human from head to toe. His mannerisms are very much like that of a small pet. Toothless seems to come alive and the work done to create him is scary good.
The problem with most sequels is that they just aren’t as good as the original. You might leave the theater feeling some enjoyment, but it isn’t the same feeling you experienced when going to the first film. And this makes it harder to appreciate or get excited about the new film.
"How To Train Your Dragon 2” is no exception. There is a lot of good stuff here, but the freshness and sense of discovery is gone, detracting from the overall experience.
Dreamworks has had some difficulty creating new animated features lately. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” didn’t make enough money. “The Croods” did better, but not great. The only success they have had is with sequels, so… They are now going to concentrate on sequels. More “How To Train Your Dragon”, more “Madagascar” and “Penguins”, more “Puss In Boots”. These sequels already have built-in name recognition, giving them a leg up on the marketing. But Dreamworks runs the risk of using characters beyond their staying power. In “Dragon 2”, Hiccup is a young man, with much more confidence. He has less to learn about being a brave young man and there really doesn’t seem to a whole lot of training going on. In “Dragon 3”, I can imagine where they will go, but it seems to be a stretch to mention anything about training. They also run the risk of not developing or discovering the next “Shrek” of “Madagascar” and robbing their audience of a potential classic.