“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Review (Trailer Spoiler Mentioned)

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I finally saw “How to Train Your Dragon 2” yesterday, and first off I can say that I was not disappointed. I had hoped to catch it in 3D, but unfortunately the showings were a bit too late in the day for my taste. This ultimately didn’t matter, as the movie had plenty of great moments and action to satisfy me.

I hadn’t known back when I saw the first movie that it was loosely based off of a kids book. While I still may read it in the future, I loved the movie and still consider it my favorite of anything Dreamworks has produced. Hiccup and the various viking characters were entertaining, the story pulled many punches and even played things realistically at times, and Toothless was just adorable and awesome. Being a creation from Chris Sanders, the man who also created Stitch of “Lilo & Stitch” fame, I loved the Night Fury dragon from the moment he appeared on-screen.  With all that in mind, I felt the sequel delivered an experience at least on par with the first movie, if not better in some aspects.

This one mostly centers on Hiccup once again, putting some focus on his family life with his father wanting him to become the next chief of Berk, their village. Hiccup would much rather explore the world and expand his knowledge on it and the dragons existing in it. This ultimately leads to him and his friends from the first film discovering a sinister plot involving a dragon army and an unexpected blast from Hiccup’s past (more on that later). The plot felt a little more cliched this time around, but it expanded on the characters, now 5 years older, and on the relationships between the humans and dragons in both good and bad ways. Also, for an over an hour and a half-long movie, the pacing was top-notch and never felt overly slow to me.

To expand upon the universe of the first film, a few new dragons are introduced in this one and I enjoyed all of them, particularly two heavily focused on ones central to the plot. The world looked just as good if not better graphically and the flying sequences were once again done extremely well. I also have to applaud the film for making the characters LOOK like they’d age and not just adding superficial details. You see the grey hairs in Stoick’s (Hiccup’s dad) beard and Hiccup and his friends all look like matured teenagers. Aside from Toothless, you get to better know some of the dragons, including their names and even how they act around each other and their human friends. Toothless himself still remains my favorite of the bunch, still being a little cat-like in behavior and sometimes even dog-like too. He gets a bit of an arc in the movie that reflects Hiccup’s and pays off nicely in the end.

One thing I applauded from the first film was its mature, almost realistic approach to situations despite the fantastical setting. This movie is a bit darker and edgier than the first, and I was very pleased to see it retain that realistic feel when things got serious. One crucial moment in particular had me both holding back tears and silently cheering at the sheer realism it portrayed. Many things in kid-centered movies tend to be sugarcoated, and this was one of those few instances where that was not the case. The poignant scene following that moment was gorgeously done both in tone and depiction.

Now we come to the spoiler I mentioned above, and if you haven’t even seen the full-length trailer let alone the movie, you might want to stop reading here. Just know now that I highly recommend this movie to everyone, both kid and adult alike. With that out of the way, let’s talk about a big part of the movie: Hiccup’s mom, Valka. Yes, the trailer did spoiler this and unfortunately I witnessed it, so her reveal in the film was a bit less impactful to me. I felt like more focus could have been on her and Hiccup, but overall I really liked Valka as a character and if a third film is made, I hope her character is given even more to do. She felt like a good counterpoint to Hiccup’s dad for both this film and the first, and a theme is brought up between both parents in regards to Hiccup’s future that is capped off great.

Another possible spoiler here, but it’s very minor in comparison. The ONE thing I didn’t like in the film was a subplot involving the female twin Ruffnut and her two male friends vying for her attention. She in turn gets infatuated with a new male character in the film to create this psuedo-love triangle (sorta?). While there were a couple jokes from this I chuckled at, I didn’t feel it added much to any of these characters in terms of development. All I could gather was that maybe she was the only other girl their age aside from Astrid (who is with Hiccup) that they could fight over. Either way, it was a bit jarring and with Ruffnut not being one of my favorite of the bunch, I found it a bit pointless and was thankful for how brief each scene tended to be.

Despite this gripe, the movie is one that I would definitely pick up on DVD to join its predecessor. I’ve even looked into the TV series, and while I haven’t followed it, I’m willing to give it a shot despite the drop in animation quality. Between the characters and tones of these movies, I think Dreamworks has a great property on their hands. My only hope is that they don’t settle for lesser quality like the latter half of the Shrek series seemed to fall into (though I personally liked Puss in Boots, Shrek 2 is still my fave of that series). Ultimately, this is a movie that parents should be taking their kids to see if they want to expose them to quality entertainment, and it has plenty of enjoyment for adults as well.

I give “How to Train Your Dragon 2” a solid 9.5/10.

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