I think what I found so effective about How To Train Your Dragon was that in addition to being really fun, humorous, and a good adventure, it was thematically solid. In the first installment of the franchise, the theme of symbiosis was incredibly powerful as we saw young Hiccup (Jay Baruchel; The is The End) and his pet dragon Toothless developed not only a friendship, but a genuine comrodary that made both of them better than they were capable of separately. This idea of symbiosis ends up changing Hiccup’s village for the better, helping his fellow Vikings to understand how to respect and control the dragons they’ve been fighting for so many generations.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is an excellent follow-up to the original, bringing a lot of interesting ideas to the table, and taking a more varied approach to its own themes. Set five years after the first HTTYD, the story catches up with a now 20 year old Hiccup on the day that his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler; 300), has told him that he is to replace him as Chief of the village someday. The responsibilities that revelation comes with prove to be a bit overwhelming for Hiccup, who is content developing his inventions, and discovering new islands around the area, along with new species of dragons. Hiccup finds himself quickly thrown into a leadership role when a band of dragon trappers led by the mysterious Drago (Djimon Hounsou; Blood Diamond) begin assembling an army of dragons to help them conquer the world.
The story raises a lot of interesting thematic questions about what it would mean to live in this world. First, while the first film dealt primarily with the concept of symbiosis, the sequel is much more concerned with its characters learning to stand on their own two feet and take charge. This is very much present in Hiccup’s storyline, but also that of his father and mother (Cate Blanchett; Blue Jasmine), and of course Toothless. Another theme I find interesting is the idea that every dragon is a great source of power, and once harnessed that power can be used for good or evil. It really raises the stakes for the second installment to see Hiccup face off against another Dragon master, who uses his skill with controlling dragons for such destructive purposes.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always liked plays and movies that have characters that can’t speak or won’t speak. In the Dragon series, Toothless conveys an incredible amount of characterization with the simplest look or gesture. It’s a real credit to the animators that they can so clearly define Toothless’ character in this way.
I made a point of going to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 in 3D, which I never do. Ever. 3D is a terrible invention, which serves as nothing more than a gimmick to justify jacking up the ticket price. On top of its mostly useless effect, 3D almost always gives me a headache, especially on longer films. However, How to Train Your Dragon is the only movie I’ve ever seen that is actively improved by the 3D effect. The movie is gorgeous and in 3D, the flight scenes are breathtaking, making you feel like you’re flying. I had to see if HTTYD 2 held up and it absolutely does; maybe even more so than the first film due to the increase in flying and action sequences. You’ll definitely want to spring for the 3D on this one.
That also gets me into my one major criticism of the film. While the first installment gradually built to an inevitable final conflict, HTTYD 2 gets to its central conflict fairly quickly and once the first big battle starts, the rest of the movie is pretty much all battle sequence. Hiccup’s attempts at diplomacy are all but abandoned, and while Toothless is also forced to man up, the final third of the film is little more than a lot of shoot ‘em up action. It’s fun, for sure, but it gives the first HTTYD an edge in terms of overall quality.