This Is How You Do a Sequel
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The original How To Train Your Dragon arrived on the scene and the film was a massive success. The animation was absolutely breathtaking, the 3-D was exercised with absolute mastery, and the story was a heartwarming one that wasn’t afraid to let the actions of characters bear out consequences. Oh, and there were dragons. The sequel, while perhaps not as refreshing as the original, manages to take the characters in daring directions based on what we already know about them, forcing them to make drastic decisions and leaving them in far different places than before. That is what a sequel is supposed to and do and the second Dragon performs that job with aplomb. It’s almost perfect.
The dragons and Vikings have now become best buddies, inventing their own Quidditch-style sport where they use sheep as the the Quaffle, basically. Hiccup and Toothless this entire time have been going on adventures, mapping uncharted lands in a very Age of Exploration style of storytelling. His father Stoick sees his son growing and slowly coming of age. He wants him to become chief, although Hiccup is unsure of whether or not he’s truly ready for such a responsibility. In a much darker turn for the story, they discover that a man named Drago Bludvist has been trapping dragons, most likely for the purposes of creating a dragon army that they must stop. Stoick forbids Hiccup from attempting to negotiate, since he believes that war is inevitable. Hiccup disagrees and defiantly flies off. He discovers his mother and the film incorporates some truly touching moments before tragedy strikes and Hiccup has to return to Berk to salvage his father’s legacy.
The animation is absolutely phenomenal and easily the best work that Dream Works Animation has ever done. It is remarkably beautiful and I could nearly easily sit around for an entire day and just bask in its absolute visual glory. 3-D, an addition which to be perfectly honest is utterly useless in most films, is engrained into this film in a way I have rarely seen. Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Avatar, and Life of Pi, Dragon 2 uses 3-D to enhance the film. To the film’s absolute credit, the film doesn’t rely on things being thrown in your face for effects. The 3-D accomplishes the job of enhancing the entire scope of the film. As such, when Hiccup and Toothless take that dive through the clouds, you feel as if you’re taking a dive with them./ The experience of that sensation is sublime. The design team doesn’t hold back when it comes to the dragons, either. The sheer variety of dragons on display are staggering and the Alpha Dragons steal the show in terms of design and feel. Every frame of the film is filled to the brim with something and the best display of that is the opening siege laid on the lair of the dragons under Drago’s direction. It’s incredibly tricky to pull off and they make it seem effortless.
The voice work is stellar from an all-star cast. Jay Baruchel has never been better as the conflicted Hiccup who goes through a literal roller coaster of emotions over the film’s roughly hundred minutes. Cate Blanchett joins the film as Hiccup’s mother Valka, disappearing so thoroughly into the role that it doesn’t sound like her at all while retaining her ability to imbue emotional nuance into her voice work. Gerard Butler gets his last performance in as Stoick, his best delivery closest to his demise. The supporting cast does incredible work, even if some of them (especially Craig Ferguson and Kristen Wiig) don’t really get too much to do.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 does everything that a proper sequel to do. It expands the scope severely, keeping the original foundation intact while expanding the horizons. There’s a consistent sense of high stakes for all of the characters and it pays off with a major death. Not that death is always the requirement to hold true to the high stakes in a narrative, but it adds realism to the entire proceeding that makes the film feel remarkably authentic. Kudos to the film for sticking with that tragedy all the way through and not trying to pull a neat bow-tie ending at the end. It’s the exact opposite of what a typical kids’ film would do and I applaud them for keeping true to that tragedy. What great sequels manage to do is keep true to their characters but ultimately leave them in a vastly different place at the end. There truly is a sense here that the characters have changed irreversibly and that’s a triumph.
Title: How To Train Your Dragon 2
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Dean DeBlois
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Screenplay by: Dean DeBlois
Based On: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
Music: John Powell
Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Visual Consultant)
Editing: John K. Carr
Production Company: DreamWorks Animation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Dates: May 16, 2014 (2014 Cannes Film Festival), June 13, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Movie Pilot