The Dreamworks animation landscape has turned more and more into a yearly plan that includes multiple movies coming out as a way to make money. Built off of the idea that parents will bring their kids to anything animated, recent Dreamworks movies have featured more crazy voice casts and goofy moments rather than a sense of creativity or heartwarming stories that comes from the Pixar factory.
Enter How to Train Your Dragon and the franchise that can challenge whatever Pixar spits out.
Coming out in 2010, the first movie was a smash-hit and carried the amount of creativity and originality more associated with Pixar films rather than the yearly Dreamworks products (sadly it lost at the Oscars to Toy Story 3 but let’s be honest, it had no shot). A film that was charged with likeable, relatable characters with jaw-dropping visuals, organic lessons and a sweeping score are sometimes hard to come by with studio animated films but How to Train Your Dragon was able to capture the spirit of adventure and imagination.
In How to Train Your Dragon 2, the crew had the challenge of being able to replicate the fresh feeling that the first film exerted but also expanding the universe that they had established. Not only does this film expand the dragon universe and make it something more diverse and interesting, it pushes the limits of what general studio animated films can pull off and take more risks than I have ever seen in a Dreamworks movie.
The movie picks up our hero Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) five years after the events of the first movie. He has created a dragon-friendly environment on his home of Berk with everyone, including his skeptical father Stoick, riding dragons now. But Hiccup is not content just with being “The Pride of Berk.” He wants to explore the world outside of his little viking island and push the limits of the dragons and their skills.
But when the island is threatened by dragon poacher Drago (Djimon Hounsou) and Eret (Kit Harrington), he seeks out Drago to see if he can find some sort of median. Instead, he runs into someone who he never thought was still around.
The charm of the first film is still there, especially with Hiccup and Toothless. While the first film focused on their relationship and its growth, this film examines the brotherhood that the two has established and even pushes the boundaries of their relationship. In probably the most talked about scene in the film, Dean DeBlois, who wrote and directed the film, gave probably one of the most shocking (and traumatizing) scenes in a family film since Toy Story 3 and the toys going into the incinerator scene.
This scene changed the game not only for the franchise, but for Dreamworks, who has never allowed one of their films to take the risk that How to Train Your Dragon 2 takes in this one scene.
Outside of the story, the franchise returns with even more stunning visuals, aided by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The series has a sense of epic scope that is par-none to other animated franchises, outside of maybe Studio Ghibli films. In our first scene with Hiccup and Toothless, the two surf through the sky culminating in Hiccup breaking from Toothless and showing off his latest invention, added wings to his armor, and gliding to the nearest inlet.
In another scene, Hiccup and Toothless meet another dragon rider and their dragon in the clouds for a beautifully set-up and textured scene that shows that animation can still be pushed to beautiful levels.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not your usual sequel and is the odd one that outdoes the original. With strong vibes to one of the greatest sequels of all-time The Empire Strikes Back, the film becomes not only the best film of the franchise so far but possibly Dreamworks best film to date. It is risk-taking, it is stunning and the story is absolutely captivating and heart-breaking. How to Train Your Dragon 2 shows that studio animated films can still push the limits and be some of the best overall films of the year.