How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
Dir: Dean DeBlois
Academy Award Nomination: Animated Feature.
“They may take our lives… But they will never… Take… Our… DRAGONS!”
Five years after the events of the first film in which the inhabitants of Berk made peace with the dragons, they now live side-by-side, and the Vikings have become skilled dragon riders who care for the creatures. However, this peaceful arrangement is threatened by an evil madman who wants to enslave all the dragons, use them for his own purposes, and take over the world! In his efforts to stop him, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has to face an important figure from his past, and the looming responsibilities of his future.
Immediately, I liked how there’s a clear passage of time shown by how the characters have all been matured a little in their looks. They’ve gone from pubescent teens to adolescents on the cusp of being responsible adults, although their voices haven’t really changed as they’re still provided by the same voice cast. The characters aren’t the only thing that’s matured, the story elements are also a lot weightier, with Hiccup coming of age and having to face being a man and future chieftain, as well as being in a serious relationship with Astrid (America Ferrera), and other family drama.
Also developed is Hiccup’s close bond with his dragon Toothless. It’s nice to see creatures with strong personalities as seems to be effectively done recently in animations, for example with Disney’s Sven in ‘Frozen’, Pascal and Maximus in ‘Tangled’ and here the main dragons. Toothless especially, though he doesn’t talk is a fully formed character, being very expressive in conveying a mixed role of domestic pet and friendly sidekick. All of Hiccup’s young friends from the first film are back and also bonded with their dragons, though none of these relationships are explored very deeply, the focus really stays on the lead as he’s got much more to contend with.
As for antagonists, there are the dragon trappers led by Eret with his ubiquitous British accent provided by Kit Harington (‘Game of Thrones’) proving that Jon Snow yet again knows nothing as their methods are far harsher and totally incompatible with the Riders of Berk. Djimon Hounsou (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’) voices the big bad guy sinisterly named Drago Bludvist, who is built up for most of the film and then indeed is pretty evil when he finally appears in the final third.
I often enjoy spotting interesting things in the end credits of films, and here the best I spotted is that the bagpipes were played by ‘The Red Hot Chilli Pipers’. Genius! The other interesting fact is that Roger Deakins was visual consultant on the cinematography for the film, bringing his expertise from ‘WALL-E’ and ‘Rango’, and skills that have gained him 12 Academy Award nominations including one this year for ‘Unbroken’. It’s no surprise then that the film looks great, there are a variety of settings and each stands out as wonderfully rendered.
The film is currently on course to potentially win ‘Best Animated Feature’ at the Oscars after winning at the Golden Globes. There’s a huge amount of love for this film as there was for the first, and I think part of that is because it wasn’t overly rushed, four years elapsed between the release of ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ back in March 2010 and this sequel. As it’s based on a book series with a number of instalments, it was always poised to get another film, indeed the director Dean DeBlois agreed to return for this as long as he could make it into a full trilogy, developing a major story element thrown that will clearly change things for the next film that was slated for 2017. However, the sequel has now been pushed back an extra year due to all the redundancies and outsourcing that’s being done at Dreamworks Animation, with the studio drastically restructuring their workforce resulting in a streamlining of their project slate too.
I just hope that the cutbacks don’t take their toll too much on the quality of these films. This instalment made use of new software and processing systems to make the animation look even better than the first, . Combined with the great source material and some skilled film-makers and well-honed storytelling, these films have become firm family favourites, evident from the $618 (currently) it’s taken at the box office. It would be a shame studio’s difficulties were to get in the way of DeBlois being able to deliver a fitting final part for this trilogy that he’s clearly put a lot of effort into making so enjoyable.