13
Jun
14

Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Dragon riders assemble!

Dragon riders assemble!

A big reason why I love movies so much is that I like being transported to a place or invested in a story that I wouldn’t normally be able to. That’s why I think film is such a powerful medium. Like other types of art forms, film can move you and take your breath away. With DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, it can also make it seem like a seaside Viking village with dragons does exist.

The sequel to 2010’s How to Train your Dragon, the film picks up a couple of years after the events of the first film. The Viking village of Berk has changed, and dragons are an everyday part of life. While life is good, the boy that brought all of this change to his village, Hiccup, is facing a huge struggle: follow the path his father lays out for him to take over as chief, or make his own path even though he might not know what that might be. On his journey to find the answer, Hiccup is joined by his dragon, Toothless, and the rest of the supporting characters from the first film. However, Drago Bloodfist, a self–appointed “dragon god” who has an army of humans and dragons at his disposal, threatens the peaceful existence that Hiccup and the village folk of Berk have worked so hard to build.

Don't tell this guy about the mother of dragons.

Don’t tell this guy about the mother of dragons.

The past few years DreamWorks Animation has upped the ante in terms of animation quality and I thought that some of the scenes in last year’s The Croods were simply majestic. With How to Train Your Dragon 2 the animation is very good and while it’s at a high level, there wasn’t anything groundbreaking in terms of animation quality. Aside from a few spectacular scenes where we get to see a plethora of dragons, the animation is not why you should see the film. It’s the story, characters, and the way the movie is crafted that make the film really entertaining. The medium of animation is just a means to tell this story. Though it still is a very beautiful, very nuanced, and really colorful means to tell a story.

I will say that the 3D is really well done. Granted animated films already have a leg up on their live-action brethren when it comes to 3D environments looking good on screen, but the creators did a really good job of providing great environments to immerse us in. If you’re adverse to 3D at all then you’ll be fine seeing it in 2D. However, I will recommend you see it in 3D as it does provide a more immersive experience.

While many people believe animation is just for kids, Pixar has shown us that the medium can be used to entertain a wider range of people. That being said, while the kids will have fun watching Hiccup, Toothless, and all the dragons in the film, it also provides entertainment for adults as well. While the shenanigans of Snotlout, Fishlegs, Tuffnut, and Ruffnut continue to provide a good source of laughs, this time around we get similar laughs from the dragons in the film. In a really fun scene that I’m sure most dog owners will relate to, Eret, a dragon trapper that we are introduced to in this film, tries to throw away Hiccup’s sword. Each time however, Stormfly (Astrid’s dragon), flies off and dutifully retrieves it and brings it back to Eret as if it were some game. The interaction alone is funny in itself, but the reactions on Eret’s face are what make the scene simply hilarious.

"Oh yeah." -Ruffnut

“Oh yeah.” -Ruffnut

Along similar lines, I’m sure any pet owner that sees the film will see some part of their pet in Toothless. The Nightfury’s mannerisms are so smart and dead on that it’s uncanny how similarly Toothless acts like a real animal. The speaking with his eyes, the awkwardness he feels when he’s around new dragons, the playful nature he has when he’s annoyed with Hiccup–all of that came from somewhere and I wouldn’t be surprised if Toothless is modeled after pets owned by DreamWorks animators.Though Toothless doesn’t speak, part of the charm of the film is determining what kind of a character Toothless is from seeing his actions.

In line with the great character work that DreamWorks Animation put into Toothless and all of the supporting dragon characters in the film, they also do a really good job of mixing comedy and drama. The emotional beats of the film revolve around Hiccup and his family. In one of these scenes, Hiccup’s father, Stoick, is introduced to a character he hasn’t seen for a while. It’s a very simple scene of two characters meeting, but it’s the expression on Stoick’s face and the look he has in his eyes that make this meeting really touching.

Who is this mysterious figure?

Who is this mysterious figure?

There are a few more small moments like this in the film where love and the bond of family are put on display. Though some of these moments are telegraphed, it doesn’t make them any less powerful when you see them happen on screen. Your heartstrings will still be tugged on since the film makes these characters feel like real people, which transforms the film into more than just your regular animated comedy. In much of the same way that Pixar gets us to invest in their characters, DreamWorks Animation does the same here.

Like in the first film, everything comes back to Hiccup, and he is the heart and soul of the film. The movie sets up that in order for this new found life with dragons that Hiccup built up in the first film to continue, he needs to get ahead of the looming confrontation that Drago Bloodfist will bring. This is part of the journey of discovery that Hiccup has to go through. While some of these issues may seem similar to the ones he faced in the first film, the introduction of new characters does put a different spin on things, which in turn changes things up and makes the audience a lot more invested in what’s going on. When Hiccup does reach the conclusion of his journey, we’re fully invested and happy with the person that he chooses to be.

I believe I can fly.

I believe I can fly.

While I did see the first How to Train Your Dragon, I wasn’t lucky enough to see it in a theater. Unfortunately I caught it after it came out on home video. While I did like the first one and was entertained, I wasn’t over the moon about it as I know a lot of people are. I think a big reason for that is because I didn’t experience it in a theater. Though I can’t say for certain, I’m sure I would have loved the first How to Train Your Dragon more had I seen it in a theater under optimal conditions and I will dare to say that the sequel bests the original.

How can I be so certain? Because I simply loved How to Train Your Dragon 2. From nuanced characters like Hiccup, Toothless, and Stoick, to great storytelling that gives us an engrossing plot, to the animation and visuals on screen that can make you “oh” and “ah” when someone riding a dragon soars through the air, it’s simply the best movie I’ve seen this summer. Like I stated at the top, a really good movie can transport you to a far off place to see and experience things that you can only imagine. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is just such a movie.

Cinematic Scene: This is Berk

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should definitely pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should definitely pay attention to.

Right at the very beginning of the film we are introduced to the seaside village of Berk. As Hiccup is providing backstory via monologue, we essentially get a dragon’s perspective of flying over and through the town. Starting out at sea and flying by the majestic stone guardians that define the boundaries village, the sweeping shots of the opening are simply breathtaking. The rich animation and awesome use of 3D is put on display front and center as the camera goes swooping over the water and into Berk. Diving, weaving, and soaring through the village; we not only re-orient ourselves to the setting, but get an exhilarating feel for what it must be like to be a dragon. The open sequence beautifully sets the tone for the entire film.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is now playing in theaters everywhere.

5 out of 5 stars // PG // 1hr 42min

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