MAKE no mistake about it – How To Train Your Dragon 2 (HTTYD2) is not only DreamWorks Animation’s finest work ever, it is also the best animated feature, and arguably one of the best movies you’ll see this year.
Why? Well, first of all … dragons, man. DRAGONS. Are there any other mythical creatures that can inspire as much awe, wonderment, and terror all at the same time?
These magnificent, majestic creatures of legend are so high up the mythical monster mountain that every other movie, from Shrek to Godzilla, has tried to incorporate some part of the dragon mythology into it.
The problem with having a dragon in your movie, however, is that it can either end up making it even more awesome (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug), or turning it into a disaster (Reign Of Fire, anyone?).
The original How To Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) could have been the latter. Based very, very loosely on Cressida Cowell’s children’s book series, and produced by a studio that was better known for slapstick comedy animated features with big-name stars, it turned out to be the surprise hit of 2010, and would have been the best animated feature of the year if it weren’t for a certain Toy Story 3.
With the villagers of Berk having overcome their fear of dragons and learning to embrace them as friends in the first movie, HTTYD2 ups the ante by expanding on the franchise’s dragon mythology, and introducing new elements to an already well-established fantasy world.
With a time jump of five years from the first movie, the villagers of Berk have learned to co-exist with the dragons they once feared, and Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now a strapping young 20-year-old who is being groomed to be the village’s Chief by his father, Stoick The Vast (Gerard Butler). The problem is Hiccup is more interested in exploring the world with Toothless, his Night Fury dragon, and doesn’t think he’s ready to step up to the plate just yet.
On one of his adventures, Hiccup and Toothless come across a group of dragon trappers led by Eret (Kit Harington), and learn of Drago (Djimon Hounsou), a fearsome conqueror who is building a dragon army.
Convinced that he can reason with Drago instead of fighting him, Hiccup and Toothless try to seek him out. However, along the way, they are waylaid by a mysterious dragon rider that turns out to be his long-lost mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who shows Hiccup a whole new side of dragons.
The main theme of this movie is about finding your true potential and growing up – the journey of how Hiccup grows into the man his father wants him to be, and how Toothless grows alongside him.
For DreamWorks Animation, this also marks another step forward in the studio’s growth. While the original voice cast reprise their roles in the movie to good effect, it is the new additions that stand out here. Hounsou commanding boom gives Drago just the right balance of evil and ferocity; while Blanchett’s other-worldly, elf-like voice is just perfect for a character who has been wrapped up in the world of dragons for so many years.
In terms of emotional heft, pacing and script, this is certainly all the way up there with some of Pixar’s best. One thing it gets absolutely right, however, and perhaps even surpasses Pixar, is the action.
HTTYD2 has some of the best all-out action battle sequences I’ve seen in an animated feature since, well,The Incredibles, and it is what elevates HTTYD2 above its fellow DreamWorks stable-mates and all the other contenders this year.
Really, just give them the 2014 Best Animated Feature Oscar already.
If you loved the original HTTYD, you’ll love this even more. Director Dean DeBlois has added so much more to the franchise, enriching it with more mythology, developing strong characters, and building a world that you just can’t wait to explore more of (the next sequel is already slated for 2016).
And if that isn’t enough to convince you to watch this, well, just go watch it for the dragons, man. DRAGONS!