How To Train Your Dragon was a huge step forward for Dreamworks when it released in 2010. Had Pixar not released the brilliant Toy Story 3 the same year, it would have won the Oscar for best animated film. Until then, Dreamworks was known for putting out fun, but ultimately disposable animated romps. The first film spoke to me and became the movie I would put on whenever I needed something to shake me out of any funk I was in. I adored it and patiently awaited its sequel for four years now. Even its television show, Dreamworks’ Dragons, was fun in its own right. Now we finally have How To Train Your Dragon 2, but will it possibly be able to live up to the bar the first set?
It has been five years since Hiccup, Astrid and the other teens of Berk learned that dragons are a kind and gently species driven to attack. Horrified by this they freed the dragons from their oppressive master. The residents of Berk now live in harmony with the beasts of the sky. Stoick is grooming Hiccup to take over as village chief, but Hiccup’s sense of adventure drives him to map out their world. During an expedition he stumbles across dragon trappers and plot of an army set out to conquer both human and dragon alike.
The first How To Train Your Dragon wasn’t just a coming of age tale, but it also created a world filled with wonder and beauty and crafted a coming of age tale woven into a parable about understanding and not being quick to judge. So many sequels fall into the trap of just doing the same plot again with slightly different details, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 ages its characters to tell a different sort of coming of age tale. Instead of Hiccup and his friends leaving childhood and seeing the world for what it is, they’re now become adults and realizing that they have responsibilities that don’t just involve themselves.
Boiling down this film or the first, while revealing the messages they are trying to convey, does the plot a slight disservice. What makes the How To Train Your Dragon films so brilliant are their ability to take this fascinating world they’ve created and tell thrilling stories with those messages seamlessly wrapped in. How To Train Your Dragon 2 greatly ups the ante of the first film. The citizens of Berk know their dragons, but as Hiccup finds, there is still so much about these creatures yet to understand. Drago and his army are coming and they have dragons enslaved by fear.
Hiccup’s mapping of the world reveals spectacular vistas like we haven’t seen in this series. Just as the first film, the cinematography, especially in 3D, is beautifully shot and genuinely gives the sense of flight. Even though these movies are CG, it still takes a deft hand to properly frame scenes and the guiding touch here is spectacular. The amount of love I have for the first film made me think nothing they filmmakers could do would possibly top it, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. This is a movie that tops the first in every possible way.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 surpasses the first in every way possible. It even throws in some affecting tragedy, so be warned. This is a story that takes the plight of its character seriously. So often there is no danger, no real consequences for the heroes of family movies. Hiccup may have lost a leg in the first movie, but the events of this will bring tears to your eyes. While that’s not special on its own, it happens in an already fantastic plot, making it deeper and humanizing. If Dreamworks can keep creating films like this, they will steal the family film throne from Pixar, it’s just a matter of time.