by Coop Cooper
If the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was “Star Wars”, then the second film is both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” all rolled into one. I was a huge fan of the first film, going so far as to say it was the best Dreamworks Animated film ever, possibly surpassing anything put out by Disney’s Pixar as well. This sequel ups the ante with a more mature story, more action, continuing character development and gorgeously updated animation.
Set five years after the first film, the Viking village of Berk has fully embraced and integrated pet Dragons into its culture. Astrid (America Ferrera) and her friends compete in dragon racing games while Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler) and the other citizens collaborate with the dragons to provide for the community. Meanwhile, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, explore the surrounding lands, charting new territories and new species of dragons. They soon run afoul of a band of mercenaries who are capturing dragons for the warlord Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who is enslaving dragons to expand his massive army to conquer Berk and then the world. Opposing Drago is the mysterious ‘Dragon Rider’ Valka (Cate Blanchett) who is a protector of wild dragons and has a secret connection to Hiccup. In order to save the dragons, Hiccup, Stoick and Valka battle Drago and his evil ‘Alpha Dragon’ which has the ability to turn the benevolent dragons against their masters.
The original “Star Wars” trilogy does seem to be a direct influence on this series of films as Hiccup becomes a ‘Jedi Master’ of dragons. He finds an Obi Wan-like mentor in Valka and he even has a ‘lightsaber’-like flaming sword he invented utilizing the flammable gas emitted from the breath of the Zippleback dragon. In the end he discovers his true destiny which could send the series in an exciting new direction. Hiccup’s dragon Toothless goes through a compelling story arc as well. As he and Hiccup explore the lands, it becomes painfully evident that Toothless may be the last of the Night Fury species. By the end, Toothless’ relationship with dragons changes, giving him a purpose in this world, even if he is the last of his kind. He is even confronted with a gut-wrenching “join the dark side” moment which was a bit shocking given Toothless’ previously benevolent nature.
The story gets dark near the end. One tragic moment made a little girl in front of me cry and hang on to her Dad until things lightened up a bit, but the growing maturity of the film is an indication of its greatness. I admit I got a little nervous the film was about to pull a downbeat “Empire Strikes Back” ending to be concluded in the next film. They could have easily gone that direction but thankfully for the kids in the audience, they were able to segue it into a “Return of the Jedi” ending.
The first movie was adapted from the British author Cressida Cowell “How to Train Your Dragons” novels, of which there are nine in the series so far. It would appear that this film has departed completely from the source novels, opting for the Hollywood development path which is probably a good thing. It would appear that the novels are aimed for a much younger audience, while the films are evolving with the maturity of the characters, much like the “Harry Potter” series of books and films. Speaking of “Harry Potter”, this sequel cribs from that as well with its Quidditch-like dragon racing game where players lap an area to drop a sheep into their individual goals. I’ll actually be surprised if PETA doesn’t get upset over the treatment of the animated sheep in this film, considering they are used for comedically cruel purposes and aren’t held in high regard like the dragons themselves (what do you think all of those dragons are eating anyway?).
This is a fantastic movie for all ages and a rare case where a sequel tops the original. I sincerely hope Dreamworks Animation continues the series and continues to expand the rich and entertaining mythology of this story. I could actually see this becoming a massive “Star Wars”-like franchise complete with endless amounts of toys, video games, theme park rides and sequels. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is now my new favorite movie of the year and will no doubt be a big summer hit.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars