Disputing Pixar’s dominance over animated films How To Train Your Dragon was hands down one of the most exciting and enjoyable family films in recent memory. With the first film’s success comes the inevitable sequel but does How To Train Your Dragon 2 soar high or crisp under the fiery breath of its predecessor.
With Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his best buddy dragon Toothless changing life in the town of Berk there is pressure on him from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to begin to learn the ropes of being the chieftain. With his leadership credentials up for debate Hiccup and Toothless meet a fellow dragon-rider (Cate Blanchett) who reveals even more secrets about their scaly friends, not to mention Hiccup’s past. But it seems dragons are in high demand and the evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is assembling a dragon army by utilising an ‘alpha’ who can control the minds of the smaller dragons near him and has set his sights on conquering Berk.
Never missing a beat as per the first film How To Train Your Dragon 2 is another rare treat of an adventure. It tells a brilliant story with enough inventive flair to keep even Hiccup’s curiosity’s thrilled and emotional character investment to make you fly with happiness. It, as many sequels do, is happy to find a darker tone despite the targeted younger audience, and yet director Dean DeBlois – this time flying solo having co-directed the first film – is clearly on a mission to tell a tale grander and of greater narrative arc than the first film’s origin story.
In an era where big budget cinema is determined to blur the lines between theme-park ride and story How To Train Your Dragon 2 may be one of the few that actually achieves said feat. Because, while the story is always engaging, there are fewer highs to be had this year than flying through stunning vistas and clouds with Hiccup and Toothless. Of course the visuals are aided by the brilliance of eleven times Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins who here acts as “visual consultant” and it clearly shows. Where the first film kept us relatively grounded in Berk this time we see the vast stretches of the world from lush greenery to ice-cold wastelands all hiding the promise of new friends or foes.
But while you’re being dazzled by the look and entertained by the story How To Train Your Dragon 2 makes the wise choice of understanding what made the first film so appealing; the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. Baruchel’s delivery as Hiccup is always inch-perfect, just that right level of dry wit combined with insecurity. But the real star is the voice-less Toothless. Part cat, part lizard he’s all-cute and, like a silent movie star, manages to emote far more by saying nothing. Watching Hiccup and Toothless first banter and then team-up to do battle is easily on par with anything The Avengers can muster but with arguably just a hint more heart to proceedings.
Dazzling, thrilling, heartfelt and funny, How To Train Your Dragon 2 lifts you above the clouds of most animated film.