When the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was released in 2010, it was a bit unexpected for me. The trailers looked really good but it was coming from Dreamworks Animation. Dreamworks outside of the first two “Shrek” films, haven’t really produced anything outstanding. Sure “Over the Hedge” and “The Bee Movie” were fun and enjoyable family features. While Dreamworks was able to get some solid base hits, Pixar was cranking out grand slams. “How to Train Your Dragon” went above and beyond all expectations. “Dragon” was easily Dreamworks best film to date. Emotional, funny, heartfelt and filled with great writing and storytelling.
It felt very complete by the end of the story. The story of father and son were resolved. The Vikings and Dragons were able to coexist. The narrative in both plot and thematically ended with a nice big red bow and don’t have much ways to go after the end credits start rolling. The trailers for this sequel (cleverly titled “How to Train Dragon 2”), were unimpressive. I wasn’t expecting much, except an unnecessary sequel like “Shrek Forever After”. Yet Dreamworks and director/writer Dean DeBlois had something else in mind for people like me. “Dragons 2” defines expectations now with grand storytelling that takes things to a more epic and emotional level than its predecessor. Terrific voice acting and animation anchor the incredible and dazzling action sequences. This latest “Dragons” feature now in the annuals of animation this joins the greatest sequels in the genre.
Our new adventure opens up in a familiar place. The Vikings home now the home to hundreds of Dragons, live happily together. They play sports and care a great deal about each other. Hiccup is on the cusp of adulthood and engaged to his former crush Astrid while also being groomed by his father to take over as leader of their people, a task Hiccup does not feel ready for. When on a flight with his trusted dragon Toothless, Hiccup stumbles upon an Ice Cave. Where he learns of a secret from his past and new danger that Hiccup needs to stop.
Where the film succeeds most is the well written script. I’m not familiar with the source material it is based on and am not entirely sure if this is part of the book series or that writer Dean DeBlois came up with most of the material. Regardless of where the material came from its exceptional strong. There are several character arcs throughout the film and each individual character is actually pretty well written. Hiccup goes through something that many animated films don’t seem to want to tackle and it’s the very classic Heroes Journey. A similar journey that Luke Skywalker had to go through in “Star Wars”, on a smaller scale so does Hiccup. It’s a surprising depth that the main protagonists has.
The emotional moments hit hard. When the filmmakers look to hit their emotional beats they hit them well. Nearly all animated films have an emotional moment or two. When these films miss these moments, it brings the film down dearly. “Monsters Vs. Aliens” tried to hit it’s emotional cues and missed out on it big time. In this, when the drama happens and the emotional midpoint that Hiccup’s entire character arc and development depends on, (and I won’t say what) it is the most tear worthy event in an animated film since “Toy Story 3” and “Up”.
In animation sometimes the director doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Here one of the main reasons this film is so well done is the brilliant and thoughtful direction of the man I’ve been mentioning throughout this review, Dean DeBlois. The man who co-helmed the first installment returned for this film, and does incredible work. The man he films the action, and the incredible cinematography adds a whole other dimension of craftsmanship that is devoid in other look alike animated flicks. The budget for this entry is about 20 million dollars less than the previous one but it never shows. The level or detail and grandness in visible within every frame of the production. In fact it looks a lot better than the previous “Dragons” film. Dean DeBlois has done a terrific job and hopefully he’ll get a chance at more animation and perhaps even get a crack at live action.
I’ve read an interview recently that Dean DeBlois revealed that he is already hard at work at the a third film and also suggests it could be the final one. If “How to Train Your Dragon 3” is even close to level of the first installment, or even this current one, then we will have one of the greatest animated trilogies in American Cinema of all time. Second to perhaps “Toy Story” if done well. However we won’t see if these thoughts will come to light until June 17th 2016. A date I now cannot wait to reach.
For now however, the series still stands tall as one of the best animated series in animation with just even these first two installments. An excellent starting point led up by this, an animated masterpiece. It interchanges light hearted moments with a darker tone and dangerous stakes. This is a great example of terrific storytelling and is thus far one of the best of the year and summer.