Going into this sequel, I didn’t remember much about the first How to Train Your Dragon. I remembered that it mas well-made, engaging and that it had a very cute dragon in it. I also remembered it getting wrapped up at the end and not needing a sequel. But unlike many sequels that dilute or repeat the original and show a massive drop in quality, this one soars and is as good as its predecessor. Rather than being a quick cash-grab, it shows heart and an attention to detail.
A lot of the movie is airbound, and there is a wealth of sequences involving Vikings riding dragons. Some of the scenes are high-speed and make the pulse race, while others take a moment to focus on the feeling of freedom that comes with zooming through the air. Anybody who has dreamed of being able to fly will be able to relate. The film has a slight obsession with people falling off dragons and being caught mid-air. If you would base a drinking game on it, you would be very jolly by the time the credits roll. The dragons tend to steal the scenes they are in, whether they are flying or on the ground. They are varied in design and their behavior is interesting, seemingly a crossbreed of dogs and cats. Even when dragons are in the background, you can tell the animators are excited about getting to breathe life into them.
The people in the movie are remarkably resilient, considering how often and how hard they get tossed around. There is nary an injury, barring one or two notable exceptions. Sheep are apparently completely invulnerable even though the Vikings use them as baseballs. And despite all the rough play, there is not a drop of blood in sight, a reminder that you are watching a movie made for kids.
To offset the action, there are well-earned emotional moments that tug at your heart, a few of which may even bring a tear to your eye. The leads are interesting and complex enough to keep you invested, showing some unusual family dynamics. If you have a handicapable kid, I can imagine that the relatable protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) would be inspiring, peglegged as he is. The fairly big supporting cast is more simple and cartoony, mostly around to move the plot forward and provide comic relief. They do have some character development going on, but it’s all in shorthand to avoid detracting from the main story.
There is a subtle line in the movie that received a lot of attention from the press, as it suggests that one of these rough and tumble vikings is gay. Having heard about it beforehand, the line seems underwhelming in context, very throwaway and indirect. (He just indicates that he can’t get married.) Still, it’s nice that it is there, even if most people won’t catch the meaning of it.
I could swear that there is a political subtext to the movie about the 98% standing up to the 2% that has them on a leash. But maybe the Zeitgeist is warping my view. In any case, How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t need a sequel, just like the original didn’t, but should there be another one as good as this, then it will be welcome.