DIR: Dean DeBlois • WRI: Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell • PRO: Bonnie Arnold • ED: John K. Carr • MUS: John Powell • CAST: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
2010’s How to Train Your Dragon took me, like it did the majority of the movie-going public, completely by surprise. Dean DeBlois’ fantasy-family romp, from an animation studio who’d long seemed content to mop up the spare change left by the behemoth Pixar, more often than not to the tune of an ever-tiring Scottish ogre and a zebra of African-American descent, and baring a title more marketable to the pop-up book industry, proved the finest collaboration of human storytelling with other-worldly elements suitable for all ages since Tom Hanks voiced a cowboy doll. Despite taking a couple of watches for me to admit my love, my adoration for it grew with each viewing until I, like every other red-blooded audience member who chanced upon it, pondered the cruelty of the sort of world where I could not acquire a Toothless to call my own. Though anticipating this sequel eagerly, I found it difficult to believe that lightning could strike twice to the same extent. My cynicism did not linger beyond the five-minute mark. Cynicism has no place in this movie landscape.
Opening with a ten-minute visual bombardment of a reminder as to why we adored the first film so much (featuring a Quidditch-type game simply titled ‘Dragon Racing’) it does not take long for spectacle to blast a smile on one’s face. The rich spectrum of colours from the original remains intact but the attention to detail is heightened in terms of vibrancy, as is the case with animation sequels. Rather than leaps forward in production design, depth is felt more-so in the textures of beards, scales and weather – which is fine… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; polish it.
The story this time around stems from conflicts within the realm of the expanding world of the Vikings (thanks to their winged friends) and the importance of defending one’s actual homestead, with themes of stagnancy and environmental control in the face of expansion and understanding warring for the in-story triumph. Returning at centre-stage is Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup as well as the whole clan with the additions of Cate Blanchett voicing his dragon-hippie mum, and a new adversary in the form of one Drago Bludvist, who’s about as nice as he sounds.
The great strength of this sequel is its achievement in evolving the story from essentially a fantasy-pet yarn to a broadened, emotionally involving mythology that balances hope with despair, love with tyranny and slapstick comedy with gripping action sequences. Every review will claim this is attempting to pull an Empire Strikes Back and, apart from the lack of a dark ending, I can’t render a denial of this as a fact on paper. DeBlois has upped his franchise’s game in every sense, with a very special shout-out to composer John Powell for a score that will accompany as many a morning as it will take for this reviewer to tire of it. DeBlois’ script does not miss a beat, with every plot device introduced serving refreshing functions outside of mere spectacle and with the core thematic concept of communication and understanding here, even riskily suggesting homosexual undertones amongst the patriarchal Vikings, in one of the more progressive moves yet seen in child-fiction. For some reason this understanding does not lend itself to sheep, who fall victim to needless cruelty throughout.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 achieves what all children’s films should strive toward. This is by no means necessarily for children and yet it can be enjoyed with children. For a second time Dreamworks animations have produced a work that respects its adult and infant audiences in equal measure. Your move, Pixar.
12A (See IFCO for details)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is released on 27th June 2014