As is the case with movies that do well; they get a sequel – and Dreamworks’ hit How to Train Your Dragon could not stay behind. In the first movie we saw the Vikings from the village Berk discover that the dragons terrorizing their homes were not so scary after all. Under the leadership of the chief’s son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) the Vikings changed their attitude and have come to love the dragons.
Explore and Conquer the World
In HTTYD2 the storyline is of a completely different nature. Hiccup enjoys the freedom dragon riding brings with it: he can explore the vast world around Berk and he thrives in these quests. Much to his disliking his dad wants him to settle down and take over leadership of Berk. Hiccup however does not feel ready for this and does not want to be tied down to one place with a truckload of responsibilities.
During his travels, Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid encounter dragon catchers who seem to be all working for an evil man called Drago. He is burdened with a burning hatred against dragons and wants to subdue them, building an army to defend humanity from them. Though his aim may not seem as far off from Hiccup’s dad in the first movie, Drago’s methods are without doubt dictatorial; in the process of defending humanity he also want to conquer all humans who do not share his world view.
Obviously Hiccup wants to change his mind. For this he is assisted by his long lost mother, who turns out to have the same free-spirited, dragon-loving heart Hiccup does. When attempts at peaceful negotiations fail, Hiccup is left with the decision if he is going to take up the responsibility of leading Berk in resisting oppression – a responsibility he never wanted in the first place.
HTTYD had amazing graphics and the animation in the sequel even is better. The opening sequences (a dragon race followed by Hiccup’s explorations) are thrilling to watch. No one can watch this movie without wanting to own a pet dragon himself. The freedom the riders are experiencing is so well depicted that the viewers can share in it.
The animators have chosen for very complex challenges – not in the least the furry coat Astrid carries. They however deal with these challenges in a superb way and again reaffirm that Pixar is no longer the sole king-of-the-castle. The fur moves naturally in the wind, King Stoic’s mighty beard accompanies his deep speech with an added grace, dragons are playing with each other and natural elements that seem to respond in an almost real way. That and so much more beauty can be seen throughout the entire movie.
Storywise however HTTYD2 is a lot less convincing than the original. HTTYD took us in the marvellous discovery that the Other may not be as different from us as we think. In the post 9/11-America the comparison was easily made that maybe the terrorism would end if we only got to understand each other better.
HTTYD2 has nothing of that. It is a story about taking up your responsibilities. Hiccup needs to become the leader everyone wants him to be. And Hiccup’s dragon Toothless also becomes a leader of dragons at the same time. Yes, we at one point see the beauty of sacrificial leadership (shown by Hiccup’s dad and later by Toothless), but there is not much more to the story than that. It is the type of story on leadership we’ve all seen before.
Further, this movie’s bad guy is very one-dimensional. We have seen that Djimon Hounsou is able to portray more versatile roles than the Drago we encounter in HTTYD2. While in the first movie, the Vikings of Berk could still get our sympathy and even understanding of their hatred towards dragons, the multi-layered plot seems to have disappeared for a very black- and white-story. Even Hiccup’s identity crisis is nowhere near convincing; at no point does the viewer doubt he will not save the day.
That is a pity. While the first half of the movie again knows to grab our imagination and take it to Berk, the second half seems to draw attention away from the beauty to a rather dull plot. We would have happily exchanged this plot for more of the marvelling of the first half. Unfortunately that was not the case and HTTYD2 was not able to let us leave the theatre with the same excitement and fulfilment it’s predecessor provided.
Dreamworks has announced we can expect a third HTTYD movie in 2016. We hope that the makers will revisit their crafty storytelling from the first movie while retaining the amazing animation of both.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Dean DeBlois (Dreamworks Animation, 2014)