Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

25257466If I was to gener­alize I would prob­ably say that Pixar produces sophis­ti­cated movies for the whole family while Dream­works produces funny animal movies. It’s an over-simplification and there are defi­nitely excep­tions on both sides, but that’s my general impres­sion of the two compa­nies and their animated output.

How To Train Your Dragon, however, was a case where Dream­works eschewed funny animals and produced a sophis­ti­cated movie.  It’s one of my favorite animated movies of the last decade. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is better in almost every respect.

And that’s not some­thing you can often say about a sequel.

I saw How To Train Your Dragon 2 in 3D which is some­thing I mostly don’t bother with. In this case though, if you have the option (and it works for you) it’s a good idea. If you’ve seen the trailers you already know that the anima­tion and cine­matog­raphy is top notch. It’s that stan­dard or better all the way through the movie. And the swooping nature of the dragons flight lends itself perfectly to 3D. Not that your expe­ri­ence will be sub-par with the 2D version, but it did add a little something.

I’m not going to spend any more time talking about the anima­tion, because there’s just nothing bad or nit-picky that I have to offer there. It’s great. Beautiful.

The story though, that’s what really got me. Dream­works took a brave step here by aging their hero Hiccup 5 years from 15 to 20. That’s a major and very signif­i­cant jump forward. Gener­ally for children/family films the protag­o­nist is a child because it’s assumed that will be easier for the kids to iden­tify with. But How To Train Your Dragon already told Hiccup’s coming of age story. So what they did here was to show… there’s no such thing. Life does not in fact offer a single right of passage at which point you change from boy to man. Instead it’s a series of tests in which you hope­fully learn things.

So at the start of this movie we have a Hiccup who is older and more confi­dent but he’s still naïve and fool­hardy and he is in no way mature. It’s that very combi­na­tion of traits that leads him to make some impul­sive moves that land him and his friends and family in trouble.

Basi­cally everyone else in this movie has to go rushing around attempting to save Hiccup because he goes flying off on his own without talking to people or plan­ning. And there are conse­quences to that. Harsh consequences.

At first I thought we were going to get an annoying moral about how if you talk to people and under­stand them there’s no need to fight. That would be a pretty tradi­tional message for a kids movie. But it’s also very shallow and simplistic. Instead though we got some­thing a little closer to reality. Where you can try to talk to people. But some­times they just aren’t going to listen.

In the first movie Hiccup’s stub­born refusal to listen to others helped everyone. Here… here the result is an avoid­able tragedy. On the other hand… if he hadn’t gone flying off, well his mother would not have been returned to his life. So, much like real life it’s not all cut and dried.

The movie does a very good job of setting up and hitting the emotional beats for Hiccup and a couple of them are genuinely heart wrenching. Where it is weaker is in its treat­ment of the other char­ac­ters. They all get some face time, but they don’t notice­ably grow or change.

I’m not sure if that’s really a bad thing. This is Hiccup’s story, just like the first movie was. It’s not that they were made to be weak or inef­fec­tual, on the contrary. It’s just that we don’t learn much more about them. Spending too much time devel­oping side-plots to deepen the other char­ac­ters would make for either an impos­sibly wrong running time or make Hiccup’s story that much shal­lower. Movies are gener­ally either deep or broad, but not both. They don’t have that luxury in the way that books do.

Basi­cally I loved this movie. It just did so many things right They even managed to pull off the lightsaber Flaming Sword that Hiccup wields a few times throughout the movie.

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects.

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