Riding high in How To Train Your Dragon 2

Riding high in How To Train Your Dragon 2

Back in 2010 I described How to Train Your Dragon as ‘a splendid family movie that will bring out the 9-year-old boy in you, even if you were never a boy and are a long way from 9-years-old.’

His scrawny pacifist hero, Hiccup (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) is now a teenager, and his dragon, Toothless, has to share Hiccup with a girlfriend, a mysterious lady and tribal responsibilities.

Could Executive Producer/ Writer/Director Dean Deblois, one of the co-directors of the original hit film, do it again? The answer is a generously qualified yes.

How to Train Your Dragon (2) entertains with superb digital 3D animation, some terrific scenes and plenty of heart, but the plot feels strained and some frenzied editing detracts from the story telling.

When the sequel begins, Hiccup is literally riding high, having been credited with ending his Viking village’s costly dragon wars. He, and Toothless, the black dragon he saved and befriended in the original film, have even inspired a Harry Potter-type dragon game where hapless sheep are substituted for basket balls.  (No CGI sheep were harmed during the making of these scenes).

Thanks to Hiccup, every former dragon hater in the village has now adopted one, and the cliff top village is overcrowded with barns and feed-stores to accommodate all the semi-domesticated creatures. Astrid, (America Ferrera), the village’s courageous, pretty tomboy is now Hiccup’s fiancé, and his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), wants his son to replace him as Chief.

This idyll could not last, of course, or there wouldn’t be a film.  The Vikings and their beloved dragons are threatened by a power-hungry dragon rustler called Drago (Djimon Hounsin).  Unlike Hiccup, Drago believes that the only way to control a dragon is to subjugate it using force and fear. Drago is building an army of submissive dragons to conquer the world.

The story is not all battle scenes, however. Hiccup feels unworthy of becoming Chief as he is not into warfare. His idea is to convince this Drago character that the best way to tame dragons is to be nice to them.

Along the way, Hiccup discovers a female recluse (Cate Blanchett) who has also dedicated her life to saving dragons and can help answer Hiccup’s nagging questions about his identity. Though there are comic moments, there is also sadness.

Young children might be disturbed by a tragic death scene and indeed adults could well shed a tear.

Arguably the best new character is a trapper named Eret, paid to deliver dragons for Drago’s army.  Eret, voiced by Game of Thrones’ star Kit Harington, is the macho, heart-throb that Hiccup can never be, and becomes even more attractive when he is gracious in defeat.  Eret eventually switches sides when a Viking dragon saves his life.

One of the thrills of the original was riding along with Hiccup on the back of Toothless, and feeling like you were flying through the chilly Norwegian air.   Deblois does not skimp on this fun, but a lot of the flying is incorporated into manic battle scenes that feel more mechanical.

The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, the key to both films, remains as touching as ever, but it’s difficult to see where the friendship can go.  Deblois adds some tension by testing the strength of this human/dragon alliance when Drago’s commanding Alpha dragon calls from the wild.

The problem is that Drago is not a very interesting villain and his story tilts the emphasis away from the beautifully drawn and credible Viking world into a more nebulous fantasy land.

Joyce Glasser – MT Film reviewer