Back in 2010 the first How To Train Your Dragon, loosely based on Cressida Cowell’s children’s book series, caught everyone off guard: DreamWorks’ movie about viking boy Hiccup and his dragon Toothless was great family fun, surprisingly touching and beautifully animated to boot. As a result the film managed to find its way into the hearts of many, spawning a TV show, three short films, stage shows and now finally a sequel. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is an inspired successor too, in that it doesn’t rehash the story of the original or picks up right where its predecessor left off. Instead HTTYD2 begins five years after the events of the first movie and sets out to tell the story of the same characters who’ve grown older and have their heads in a different place. Hiccup has now matured and is trying to find out who he is and what he wants from life, while he’s also exploring the world with his pal Toothless. When the pair stumbles upon a group of dragon trappers during one of their trips, one thing becomes very clear: trouble is on its way and it’s up to Hiccup to protect his home, the Isle of Berk, from this grave threat.
What makes HTTYD2 work so well is its characters. Hiccup is a very relatable, good-hearted and spirited teen who has a very sweet bond with his dragon Toothless, a loyal pet with a cat-like personality. Just like the first one did, this film belongs to this duo, and Jay Baruchel delivers a fine performance as the film’s protagonist. He’s funny, cooky, but also sells the emotional scenes, of which there are, once again, surprisingly many. But the rest of HTTYD2‘s characters and cast do an excellent job too: America Ferrera is sweet and spunky as Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid, Gerard Butler wonderfully thick and kind as his dad Stoick, and Cate Blanchett delivers a moving and strong turn as new character Valka. Sadly the movie’s plot is a mixed bag: Hiccup’s personal journey is done very well, but the villain and his agenda you’ve seen a thousand times before and this plot strand therefor fails to be fresh or exciting. That part of the plot is perfectly serviceable though and will especially entertain the movie’s younger viewers, but compared to the level of writing the film demonstrates during its character-driven moments, it’s a letdown. What is arresting, is HTTYD2‘s animation: whenever Hiccup is riding Toothless or the other characters are riding their dragons, the movie soars. Sweeping camera movements and thrilling flight choreography make you gasp for air, which was also a hallmark of the first HTTYD, but its sequel has certainly upped the ante. Apart from successfully evoking the feeling of flying through its visuals, the art direction at the base of the film’s style is also stunning: the creature designs, characters and environments all look wondrous and immensely detailed, which makes the film an absolute pleasure to look at.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is on a par with the first movie. While a big chunk of the story isn’t that special, its characters and visuals do keep you glued to the screen. 8/10