How to Train Your Dragon 2 came out when I got my tonsils removed. My mom was in town, and I thought it’d be a great idea to rewatch the first and then see the sequel (I’m all about chronology). Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it at any Redbox kiosks, so I decided to introduce her to the Hunger Games series. Somehow, over time, How to Train Your Dragon 2 lost a substantial amount of excitement for me, and before I knew it, it was awards season and I never saw it. I entirely counted it out of the running, and — BAM! It won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film. Then, it received an Academy Award nomination while The Lego Movie got entirely left out. Either it was really good or something was going on. Tonight I walked by a Redbox kiosk, and I thought: well, let’s find out!
As you may well understand, sequels — especially animated sequels — attract a lot of skepticism. For the most part, they never build on anything meaningful; they primarily just give the same characters a round two on what happened in the first film. Well, not so with How to Train Your Dragon 2. Turns out that director Dean DeBlois took on the sequel only if he could do it his way, which involved making a second installment in an trilogy. He didn’t want to make a film that regurgitated the same kind of conflicts and resolutions that the first film did. He wanted to make something larger than that, a trajectory that emulates trilogies like Star Wars. For that, this film is a pleasant surprise — and a success. We find lovable Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) 5 years older (and 5 years stud-lier), past his self-conscious issues. He’s a grown man, respected by his father and his tribe, loved by the lovely Astrid (America Ferrera), and companion to the equally adorable Toothless. The village is completely changed, fully accepting of dragons and living harmoniously together. While life seems to be pretty great for him, he’s not dealing with some heavy thoughts: his father wants make him the chief of the village. With that comes thoughts of legacy, competency — and whether he actually wants to do it. These are issues that are more mature than there were in the first film, establishing a more adult tone to the film.
It’s this tone that separates this film from what it is from what it could have been: which was hallow and foolish. From the get-go, Hiccup is older, exploring the world around him — which expands the cinematic world for the audience. It’s not just fun and games at home, there’s a whole world out there. As the movie continues, while many delightful qualities present themselves — like the myriad of darling and unique dragons, the quirky characters, and the gorgeous settings — a darker tone takes hold. Like most second installments of trilogies, things get serious. Hiccup is trying to feel out the duties of his impending role as chief, he tries to grasp diplomacy versus aggression, counsel versus intuition. Personally, he is reunited with his presumed dead mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett) — who creates this Nordic empress of a character, as a dragon shepherdess with an engaging and crafted accent. He gains and loses family members, and has to save his village and scores of dragons from a twisted dragon-hater. Everything is stepped up many degrees in the sequel, and it works quite well.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is thoughtful. It’s aware of its potential shortcomings, and it makes the effort to soar above. Everything is presented on a higher level, from the cute stuff to the serious stuff. Dragons get smaller and bigger, hotter and colder. The world is expanded, potentially even bigger in the third installment. It’s not that everything is bigger and better, but that the scope of this series is focused and concentrated — which is much more meaningful. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, there are dragons in this for goodness sake!