As far as I’m concerned, last year wasn’t a particularly good year for animation. “Frozen” – a film I don’t dispute the quality of – somehow managed to beat Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises” for the Academy award for Best Animated Feature Film. Whilst, even more inexplicably, “The Croods” and almost sacrilegiously “Despicable Me 2” were also considered for the award. The Academy Awards were six months ago now, and with the release of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” also comes a certain feeling of security, and also confidence. The film will no doubt be nominated for an Academy Award and has a very good chance of winning the award outright, and I’m happy that another of the five slots for nominations will be definitely filled with something actually worth considering, and there is still time left for more.
It has been five years since the events of the first film, and Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is enjoying a life on the island of Berk which has been successfully integrated with Dragons following Hiccup’s realisation in the previous film that Dragons are actually majestic and gentle creatures that aren’t to be feared but respected. He is paired with his own dragon, Toothless, and they share a very close relationship and this is actually one of the most important plot devices in the film. Now however, he has to deal with the knowledge of a “Dragon Master” called Drago Bludvist (Djimon Honsou) that is intent on enslaving all dragons and in the process destroying Berk. Hiccup believes he can use his powers of diplomacy to reason with Drago like he did with his Father – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) – but it soon becomes clear that Drago’s hatred for dragons has left him blind to the compassion the whole island of Berk feels for the species. Naturally much of the film is concerned with dealing with Bludvist but the film takes you on a sort of ride that deviates from the tracks but never loses sight of them, in a rather artful sort of way.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” looks like a standard high budget CGI film at the surface. What makes it stands out is the way it uses the tools it’s been given, “Frozen” used ice to display beauty, but with this Dragons are the game. Dragons can essentially fly and spew fire and this is mostly what they do in this film. The film really conveys the real beauty it can achieve the first time we meet Toothless and Hiccup soaring through the clouds at breakneck (literally) speeds. I recently listened to an interview with Quentin Tarantino in which he essentially said that “When music is picked right, then whenever the audience hears the song afterward it will be forever entwined with a particular scene in a movie”. Whilst Hiccup and Toothless soar we are treated to beautiful images that bring them both together and show them to be equals that have huge and enviable respect for one another, and the song “Where No One Goes” from Jónsi and John Powell engraves the scene in your memory so that for the rest of the film this initial setting up of each character and their relationship never leaves you, and this is integral to the piece.
You see, the film focuses relatively little on individual characters, and instead makes you care for each character’s relationship with another which in turn makes you care for them. Director Dean DeBlois isn’t afraid to have lasting repercussions in this film, true love isn’t going to bring back any character that kicks the bucket. In the same way that in the last film Hiccup was saved from near certain death by Toothless in true animated “We need the hero the kids are rooting for to survive!” style. Something you’ll recall is that Hiccup actually lost his leg in the final battle of the last film, something that served in that film and in this one to bring Toothless and Hiccup even closer together – as Toothless himself has lost part of his tail which hampers his movement in the air when Hiccup isn’t riding him – see what I mean? They are one and the idea of seeing them separated is a grave one indeed. The preconceptions of the animated film actually strengthen this one as when a character dies – which they will – you will have a nagging suspicion that they might be brought back by a yet undiscovered magical Lazarus Dragon or that a kiss will restore their heartbeat. Not here.
Astrid (America Ferrera) and Hiccup’s relationship is touched on early in the film and serves to merely say that they are still together and aren’t showing any signs of changing that. They exchange a very sweet piece of dialogue that makes the relationship believable, but they won’t be with each other physically for most of the movie and to that end, the film deviates from their relationship almost entirely, Good! Why should we have to deal with a love story when their is so much else going on to adore? The idea that leaving something out that doesn’t necessarily add anything to the movie being a bad thing is absurd. DeBlois knows that all he has to do is establish it and move on to the juicy stuff. The other more important rekindled relationships and the spectacular dragon battles that are always paired with a perfect level of tension and a really brilliant soundtrack to boot.
There are even a few dark scenes though, there is one very minor scene which I believe draws parallels to rape. Seems dark doesn’t it, and it is, but this film is definitely suitable for kids. This very minor scene is done in a way that it is so minor (only about 2-3 seconds) that most people won’t pick up on it, and certainly no child will. It serves to reach out to perceptive viewers to create an effect of violation on the effected party. When an animation can create a viewer friendly experience for kids and reach out to adults like that, that’s when you know that it has the makings of a great movie, and not just one to entertain the kids for an afternoon.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is gorgeous, action packed and intensely refreshing. It honestly never managed to bore me even in it’s quieter segments because it is all done so well and the pacing is immaculate. I’ve seen it 3 times already, and I could very easily watch it again.
And then maybe again.