It’s been too long since we’ve enjoyed the adventures of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch) returns to helm Dreamworks’ latest franchise edition with How to Train Your Dragon 2. The adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s young-adult book series charmed viewers with its feel-good, adventurous and heartfelt spirit, and in a world were sequels are a dime a dozen, it’s wonderful to receive one as impressive as this. Not only does a sequel need to naturally progress a story, it needs to up the ante to warrant our interest. HTTYD 2 not only pushes everything further, it arguably delivers in every aspect more than the first film did. That has to be saying something, considering how good it was.
This sequel sees Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless five years older, journeying through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. All is well in the land of Berk since Hiccup ensured the coexistence between dragons and men, and the film opens with an amusing dragon race to demonstrate. Unfortunately, this world can’t stay at peace. A series of events lead our duo to a mysterious Dragon Rider and a land filled with dragons, along with a powerful new enemy that will truly put Hiccup and his companions to the test.
The heart and soul of these films lie in the relationship between Toothless and Hiccup. The bond they share is beyond touching, coming across as a perfect portrayal of lifetime loyalty. These buddies have grown up quite a bit in the last few years, but they’re still the same kind-hearted and adventurous spirits that we met in the first film. Hiccup is a young man now, a confident and independent adventurer that simply can’t see himself being the new chief of Berk, as his father wishes. Toothless remains the same pure, sweet and endearing dragon. His mannerisms are more finely tuned this time round, if that was even possible, ensuring that you’ll fall even more in love with one of animation’s most gorgeous creatures.
There isn’t a moment of boredom here, and the film never lingers too long on one aspect. The story progresses nicely, surprising with its maturity and emotional strength. Kids will still have a field day with the action and delightful visuals, but it’s the story here that really triumphs. Characters are put through the ringer here; hearts are broken and lives are shattered. Don’t let these factors scare you, there’s plenty of humour and quirky dialogue to ensure that your laughter comes in to balance out the emotions. In fact, its Dean DeBlois’ screenplay that ultimately has you wanting to stand in ovation. A perfect balance of animation tropes, humour, emotional complexity, action and tragedy, this is what all animated sequels should be made of.
As previously mentioned, the visuals are downright beautiful. The film benefits from the big screen, wonderfully capturing what it must be like to soar through the skies with delightful dragons. We meet many new dragons here, and while their appearance may be brief, the animators still inject each one with individual personalities and quirks. DeBlois trusts that the world he introduced in the first film is established, and confidently expands this beautiful land. The internal compass works well, ensuring that we’re more than willing to believe the many new aspects that we’re introduced to.
The voice cast deliver great performances, especially Jay Baruchel as Hiccup. America Ferrera is good as his girlfriend Astrid and Gerard Butler brings a tough yet tender performance as Hiccup’s father, who is trying to pass on the reins to his unwilling son. Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig and Djimon Hounsou are also great.
A worthy mention goes to the film’s musical score. John Powell (Shrek, Happy Feet, Rio) does an amazing job, adding layers of joy, excitement and intensity to the incredible scenes that unfold. It never feels over the top or unnecessary.
One could rave on and on about every positive aspect that makes this a must-see film. It’s an exciting, touching and emotional film that manages to tick all the right boxes. Every aspect of this film has been thought through, and it’s obvious to see in every frame. A fantastic story, strong characterisation, impressive visual sequences and a heart as big as some of those wingspans, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not only what sequels should strive to be, but what animation should achieve as a whole.
THE REEL SCORE: 10/10