How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) – Despite the early promise of Antz, I never really felt that DreamWorks Animation existed on the same level as an animation studio like Pixar. Despite some strong showings like the first couple Shrek movies, Megamind, Monsters vs. Aliens, and the Madagascar flicks, DreamWorks Animation films always felt too rooted in contemporary popular culture. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but when I look back on a movie like Shrek 2, which I loved at the time, some of the humor seems a bit dated just ten years later. The movie that I felt broke this mold was How to Train Your Dragon. It was the first DreamWorks Animation movie that I saw that I felt could compete on a Pixar level. The film was a massive hit so naturally now there comes a sequel. Given that it’s based on a book series, I imagine even more sequels dwell in the future. So how does this one measure up to its predecessor?

The village of Berk has adjusted very well to the presence of dragons since the end of the first film. Even Viking chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) rides a dragon of his own. He is proud of his son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and plans to make him the next chief. Hiccup, however, is less certain about this plan as he prefers to ride his Night Fury dragon Toothless to unexplored regions, mapping them out. He encounters dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harrington, still knowing nothing) who tries to take toothless from him. However Eret is just a lieutenant for someone much worse: Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who enslaves dragons to build an unstoppable army. Hiccup is rescued by mysterious dragon-rider Valka (Cate Blanchett), whose connection to Berk is much more personal than Hiccup could have ever imagined. (Also totally spoiled by the trailers, but just because they blew it is no reason I have to.)

Well, to answer my own question: no this movie is not as good as How to Train Your Dragon. It does what every sequel does nowadays, it makes everything bigger. It does a fairly good job about tying in the human element. The emotional through-line is strong. The vocal cast are all on-point (though one wonders about the movie’s sole black cast member being cast as a slaver). In addition to the main cast, the first film’s ensemble of Apatow-veteran actors returns: Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and T.J. Miller. Also Craig Ferguson returns as Gobber, giving him some possibly cheeky backstory with one Ferguson-improvised line. I liked this movie, but I have a hard time articulating just why I don’t like it as strongly as the first. (Kind of a gyp, since explaining why I do or don’t like movies is the entire principle behind reviews.) The short answer is simply that the first is simply a better-made movie and stands on its own which, as a sequel, this one cannot. The children in the audience loved it. My dad also loved it. (We saw the film on Father’s Day which is… interesting, given certain plot developments.) I liked it. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t love it. That’s not a bad review by any stretch of the imagination, but after the first film is just a little disappointing.

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