*Caution, there will be spoilers ahead. So please, if you want to go into the film spoiler free, don’t read ahead*
If Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was the studio’s Toy Story, then How to Train Your Dragon 2, the highly anticipated sequel, is easily the studio’s Toy Story 2. Much like the aforementioned Pixar films, the new Dreamworks film has raised the stakes considerably, both in the film’s action and adventure, but in its emotional core as well. The filmmaker’s behind the movie really wanted to take the characters and the story to the next level, and it shows.
As the film opens, we learn five years have passed since the first film, and a lot has changed in Burke in that time. Hiccup and Toothless have become adventurers, flying out into the unknown and charting the world as they come across new places, as Hiccup continues to run from his duties on Burke. As their explorations grow, they stumble upon a group of Dragon Trappers, men bent on capturing Dragons to turn them into mindless creatures in an army, led by a man named Drago. But that encounter sets off a chain reaction in Hiccup’s life that he could never imagine.
Director Dean DeBlois, who helped write the first has taken over sole directional duties this time around, and it seems he was more than up to the task. He also wrote the film, and you can tell he’s fully invested in the world and the characters, He’s really taken a foot forward to make sure the universe’s expansion and storytelling feels natural, and all the characters have grown well. The time gap never feels out of place and doesn’t hurt the film, and it jumps on in a place that just feels right. It honestly works to the film’s advantage, and it catches up so effortlessly you’re swept up in it and the exposition never feels like too much.
Really, the film works so well, not just because for DeBlois’ storytelling, but the film’s actors as well. Jay Baruchel completely and utterly embodies Hiccup. There’s no other actor who could play the character the way he does. He just gets how he ticks, and the character’s mannerisms even reflect Baruchel’s, and there’s a fun moment in the film that actually makes fun of that a little bit. He’s the heart and soul of this film, and it’s Baruchel and his relationship with the characters around him that makes the heart of the film work. Hiccup and Toothless continues to grow and evolve, and is just so well defined here. It’s impressive how far it goes, and how dark it twists at one point, but to let their friendship grow, and it works in favor of the story.
He really get a chance to bring a lot of emotion to the role this time around, more than the first time around, which really works in the film’s favor. A lot of that plays into the fact that the relationship between not just his father, who is played so well by Gerard Butler, but with his mother, who he discovers isn’t dead, is huge as well. Cate Blanchett plays Valka, and she’s great in the role. She and Baruchel play off each other so well, and the relationship between them is so sweet. But it’s actually the scenes between Stoick and Valka that really tug on the heart strings.
It really makes it all the more tragic that he is killed so soon after they’re reunited while saving Hiccup, and it’s even worse that Toothless is the one who kills him. Toothless falling into being a pawn for the villain, as he’s brainwashed by his instincts, is a truly heartbreaking and moving moment in the film, and a direction you wouldn’t expect the film to go. But it’s good to see Dreamworks taking risks like this, because it’s making their film’s much more mature and much more emotionally investing. This is Pixar quality storytelling, and it absolutely sticks the landing. Of course, the way it all concludes puts us in a much happier and better place, but for a good portion of the third act, the film really takes an Empire Strikes Back approach, and it really works well.
The animation is also absolutely breathtaking, and leaves you feeling completely immersed in this world. It’s amazing how far the technology has advanced in the short time since the first film. Characters and dragons alike just look incredible, and the designs are so well done. It’s hard not to just look slack jawed at the whole thing as it plays out in front of you. The 3D is some of the most immersive, as well as beautiful, to be seen on film in some time.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a perfect follow up to the original. Dreamworks is really flexing their storytelling and dramatic muscles in a way that they have never done before, and they seem to be maturing as a studio. There’s very little to complain about with the film. It’s smart, funny, dramatic, and a film that just fires on all cylinders. This is Dreamworks going to Pixar’s level, and it’s good to see them stepping up their game. This is certainly turning out to be the year of sequels, and once again, this film not only capitalizes on what came before, but finds a way to build off it and become better. This is filmmaking at its finest, and it’s even better its a family film that doesn’t talk down to the audience. What a rare, and special, film this is.