I make no secret of my love for animation and there have been many spirited debates around the office about the merits of Classic Disney versus Pixar. DreamWorks, the studio behind Shrek, has had a fair few duds in recent years but the How To Train Your Dragon franchise is not one of them. The latest film in the series is an action-packed adventure that soars into your heart and takes the tale of Hiccup and his trusted dragon Toothless into maturer territory.
It’s been five years since fifteen-year-old Hiccup took down a mighty dragon in a bid to win his father’s approval and befriended the beast instead. By the end of How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup and his new pet Toothless have successfully proved to the citizens of Berk that dragons are loyal creatures that can be trained. The perfect set up for a two season (so far) TV show called Dragons: Riders of Berk, where the integration of dragons into Viking society plays out for fans of the film.
So where do you go from there? Considering the wealth of material the author Cressida Cowell has supplied in the book series, there were many paths the filmmakers could have taken. How To Train Your Dragon 2 opens with an amusing sequence; Astrid (America Ferrera), Snotlout and the rest of the gang race one another on the backs of dragons while Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler) and the rest of the population enjoy the show.
All except our main duo, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, who spend most of their days journeying across the skies, charting unmapped territories and practising Toothless’ solo flying without Hiccup on board to control the handy additions that enable our favourite Night Fury (his dragon species) to fly with an injured tail.
When one of their adventures leads them into the midst of dragon trappers, lead by Eret (Game of Thrones Kit Harington), they realise the honeymoon phase has ended and they have to grapple with the wicked Drago, who intends to put the lives of Vikings and dragons in mortal peril. Now 20-years-old and stubbornly head-strong, Hiccup’s naïve hopes of reasoning with Drago lead him and Toothless to a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of wild dragons and the mysterious and welcome addition of the Dragon Rider.
If you have the sense that the story has grown up since the original, you’d be right. Our cast of teenagers are young men and women now, with responsibilities on top of caring for their dragon companions. And it’s the best decision the filmmakers could have made. The characters need to grow up with the audience in order for the franchise to really cement your attachment to their fictional world. This is why Pixar’s Toy Story 3 worked so well, sending Andy off to college when the kids who grew up with Woody and Buzz took that right of passage themselves.
The film is set in a world DreamWorks has expanded far beyond the island of Berk this time around, both in setting and in character. New, interesting and essential additions to the cast include Valka, voiced by Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, who brings more than just another strong female into the fray. She’s vital to the plot and the complex relationship between Hiccup and his father Stoick, who is intent on training his son up to take over as Chief.
Eret serves his purpose more so as a piece of eye candy for the ladies and comedic relief, but it’s Djimon Hounsou as the villainous Drago that truly brings the story of age. He acts as a reminder that the harmony of Berk is but a bubble of peace and that danger lies beyond their reach. It’s also Drago who truly tests the bond between Hiccup and Toothless. The pair must stand up and recognize that together they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.
Not that it’s all serious mind. Toothless is as cute as ever, his love for Hiccup moving in places, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Snoutlout and Fishlegs still supply welcome laughs when the going gets tough. As for the flying sequences, if you loved the first film, prepare to be blown away by this one.
It’s difficult to say whether How To Train Your Dragon 2 is better than its predecessor, because they both stand alone as well accomplished, entertaining and visually stunning animations. DreamWorks have accomplished what so many don’t, a sequel that not only matches the first in quality, but adds depth and grit to the story. At no point did I feel like I was watching a pointless continuation that should have been left alone. I wanted to know how these characters were getting on and I wasn’t disappointed.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is out in UK cinemas now!