Soaring A Second Time In "Dragon 2"
“How To Train Your Dragon 2” is a rare sequel that lives up to the original, here in both visual quality and tone. Sometimes, animated sequels tend to go off the razzle-dazzle rails in an attempt to prove their worth (see: “Shrek” franchise), but HTTYD2 eschews flash in favor of keeping with the spirit of the first film, a great animated adventure with heart.
In that first movie, we met Hiccup, the gangly son of a Viking village chief, who learns the secret to defending his village from dragon attacks is to befriend the creatures, not try to kill them off. Hiccup befriends a Night Fury dragon he names Toothless because it can retract its teeth when it’s feeling docile. Working together, they change the minds of the village, so that when HTTYD2 opens, everyone in town seems to have a pet dragon, and the beasts are helping out with everything from hauling goods to lighting kilns (of which they’re especially good, natch).
Still, not everyone is convinced of dragons’ kind worth. Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid stumble upon a dragon trader who tells them that an evil Viking, Drago, is building a dragon army to control the beasts and the land. After an uneasy truce is made with the trader, Hiccup, Astrid, and their friends work together to confront Drago, who's not a particularly great or charismatic screen villain, but does serve the purpose of grunting, menacing, and being a bad guy. A journey to an icy land and the momentary loss of Toothless are some of the challenges that face them, beyond Drago himself.
I liked both the first “Dragon” movie and this sequel a lot. There’s a real sense of family bonding in both of these films, and in the sequel, a character from the past surprises Hiccup and his father. Both movies also deal with loss head-on. In the first film, Hiccup loses a leg, which he’s replaced with a mechanical gizmo. In HTTYD2, the loss is even greater.
The scenes of flight are beautifully rendered on screen. I’m generally not a fan of 3D filmmaking, and would recommend the plain 2D version of a movie nine times out of ten. However, if your kids insist on making you pay the 3D premium, you won’t feel it was a waste of money after leaving the theater.
I also like the way the filmmakers created the dragons in these movies. They nuzzle up to humans, and love to play fetch. It’s as if the animators looked at our most popular pets -- dogs, cats, and horses -- and combined elements of each in the dragons' mannerisms. The variety of dragons is also interesting. USA Today even published a guide to the new “species” being introduced in HTTYD2.
Back for the sequel is composer John Powell, whose orchestral flourishes won him an Oscar nomination for the original film. His melodic score again complements well this story of bravery and heart.