When How To Train Your Dragon was released in 2010 it never quite managed to set the world on fire. It made a tidy profit and sold enough toys to justify a franchise but where it found life was in adoration, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and although it never performed Disney/Pixar numbers at the box office, audiences who did see it fell in love with this off-kilter story of a Viking boy overcoming societal pressures in order to befriend his natural predator; a dragon. The question that How To Train Your Dragon 2 poses is, can a sequel live up to what was so special four years ago? The answer is…kind of.
Picking up five years after the original movie, both Hiccup and his lizard life-mate Toothless are on the cusp of adulthood. The village of Berk has overcome it’s drakonophobia with fire breathers living and working in conjunction with the Viking population. But as Toothless and Hiccup explore mysterious ice sculptures appearing among the horizon, they encounter a dangerous foe capturing Dragons for his own nefarious means who, along with a mysterious third-party, threaten the peace that Berk has built up over the previous half-decade.
It would be easy to fall back on praising How To Train Your Dragon 2‘s technical features (and I will briefly because it never fails to look absolutely astonishing, and the soundtrack is one of the most memorable and powerful pieces of music this year alone), but it’s as a sequel that the movie truly shines. Although it’s clearly a successor to the previous film, both from a plot and tonal perspective, it builds on the established story and the time that has elapsed since we last saw this world. Hiccup is a far cry from the inept child he was the first time we met him and, whether he knows it or not, has begun to grow into an adept fighter and a confident leader with the help of his friends (human or not). It’s the sort of arc that would struggle to be told in just one movie and having been given the room to breathe across two chapters and an internal timeline, feels much more natural.
Similarly, this is a sequel that builds on the strengths of its predecessor. How To Train Your Dragon was an adventure that didn’t shy away from a dark subject matter and this installment is no less willing to test it’s characters strength. For what is arguably a children’s movie HTTYD2 makes some pretty bold choices about how mournful it dares to be, but at no point feels exploitative. It feels like every choice matters and was made for a reason to further the story and give audiences more to chew on regardless of age.
Much like the first film, the standout moments are always in regards to characters and their interactions, whether they’re focusing on blundering giggles, heart wrenching reunions or tragic twists. Sure, there is all sorts of ‘Dragon-on-Dragon’ action but these only matter because there’s nary a scene that doesn’t feature incisive character developments that are particularly able to inspire real emotion.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 lives up to the hype of the first movie…kind of. It is all the things that the original was: funny, beautiful, melancholy insightful and very, very smart. All of those things, but not surprising like the first. Hiccup and Toothless’s first adventure had the element of surprise which only ever made it that much more special. But with that difference aside How To Train Your Dragon 2 isn’t just a great sequel or a good kids film. It’s a lovely experience in it’s own right.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is Out NOW in Wide release. Image Rights; Dreamworks| Fair Dealing