Pixar may seem like the poster-child of the animation genre with DreamWorks’ creativity seeming to have dimmed lately. Even with the studios more commercial and critical successes such as Shrek (2001), DreamWorks have struggled to capture the emotion and soulfulness in an animation film like Disney/Pixar do. How to Train Your Dragon 2, however, is a heartfelt and emotional journey that is aimed at a slightly older audience. The franchise’s first iteration with How to Train Your Dragon in 2010 was a touching and visually spectacular triumph for DreamWorks and the film resonated with family audiences. The sequel delivers an equal dose of entertainment and light-hearted comedy but with an emotional twist.
The story starts five years after the events of the first film. Hapless hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is all grown up and the already established relationship with his feisty girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) is still going strong. Now in his 20s, Hiccup battles with the pressure of his impending appointment to Chief of Berk, succeeding his formidable father Stoick (Gerard Butler). Hiccup literally flies into trouble on the back of his loyal dragon Toothless when he comes face-to-face with the threatening Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Drago leads a fierce dragon army and orders a band of henchmen known as hunters to capture and control the humans and dragons alike. Ultimately, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a much darker sequel.
Upon meeting Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), who has been absent from Hiccup’s life since birth, the film introduces what seems like a whole new world of unique and wonderful-looking dragons. With amazing new-fangled dragons and visuals, How to Train Your Dragon 2 plunges the audience into a breath-taking world and leaves you wishing you could have a dragon of your own. The dragons come in all different shapes and sizes and colours too, with small, fat ones and long, thin ones, as well as spotted and stripped ones. This wonderful array creatures is perhaps the greatest feat of the film.
Unlike the usual expectations for a sequel of an animation film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 grows with the audience who watched and loved the first installment and aims at a slightly more mature spectator with its deeply emotional tone. Indeed How to Train Your Dragon 2 challenges the usual conventions of a film aimed at younger audiences, whilst also appealing to pathos and tugging at the heartstrings. Most films aimed at children will have a clichéd protagonist with a strong moral code, similar to the first installment of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise. This sequel, however, moves beyond cliché and confronts the character's morality when fighting Drago's army of dragons. Rather than just Hiccup as the hero, all the dragon riders are forced to rethink their approach to challenging the belligerent Drago.
The emotional scenes between Hiccup, Valka and Stoick are touching and, via their familial bond, DreamWorks manages to create a movie with a beating heart and plenty of soul. Admittedly, Hiccup's reunion with his mother is too sudden and forced. Due to Hiccup's good-nature, she is mostly welcomed with open arms and only a few probing questions. Nonetheless, it is the theme of family and long-lost love that defines the film’s heartfeltness.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, however, not entirely an emotional drama. There are the traditional comedic quips and child’s play expected from a DreamWorks animation; the humour mainly involves the other young dragon riders, such as wisecracking Gobber (Craig Ferguson) who lightens the mood when things get a little too serious. The most lighthearted of the bunch are the many dragons with Toothless leading the pack. These whimsical, faithful and joyous characters are a combination of wonderful qualities; the dragons are more than just pets and rather loveable characters.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a triumphant and imaginative animation that conjures such a colourful world. While at times it may seem a little too complicated for younger children with its darker and more emotional tone, this is a thoroughly enjoyable family film that challenges Pixar’s crown as the animation gurus. With the announcement of third film in production scheduled for a 2016 release, this bodes well for a memorable animation trilogy.