|OK, just look at that kid in the back, the bigger one|
right behind Toothless. Isn't he terrifying????
Of course, at DreamWorks, success means sequels, which have varying degrees of success. Some work (Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3), others fail epically (Shrek 3 and 4, Madagascar 2). Thankfully, How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn't sully the first movie and instead becomes a beautiful new film in its own right.
Hiccup (still voiced by Jay Burachel) is boldly looking for new territory and dragons with his buddy Toothless at the start of the film, and it seems that the filmmakers have taken some of that boldness to heart. They've made a dark, complex sequel that doesn't avoid showing the nitty gritty of this universe, and the story is all the better for it. There are actual stakes involved here, and it helps push Hiccup into new and nuanced directions. I particularly like how they've advanced his romantic relationship with Astrid (American Ferrera); in the world of animated movies, it was rare to see a realistic relationship between teenagers in the first movie, and they've made sure to keep the depth alive here. These two really do care about each other, a fact that's nicely displayed in an an early scene where Astrid imitates Hiccup to humorous results.
Of course, it isn't just the dynamic between Hiccup and Astrid that feels well made. After all, as the title notes, a dragon figures heavily into the proceedings, and the lovable Toothless remains an utterly delightful character you can't help but love. One thing that impresses me about Toothless is how effectively they make him intimidating in combat, while also making sure he's adorable during tender moments between him and Hiccup. As one can tell, a lot of care has been given to these characters, including Hiccups dad (whose given a nice subtle touch of having some grey in his beard) and Draco Bloodfist, the villain of the picture that thankfully, in this PG environment, isn't neutered in the slightest. The dudes a sociopath and remains a chilling foe for Hiccup to face.
I do wish that the secondary characters on Berk were given more to do though, as it feels like characters like Fishlegs and Snotlout are just there for the sake of being there. They're not too distracting, but it's easily the screenplays weakest aspect. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the highest point for the movie may be some of its glorious animation. Don't take that as some kind of crack against the movie as a whole; it's a fantastically created motion picture, but seriously, some of the stuff these extremely talented animators have created are just dazzling to behold. Waters, scales, and most noticeably for me, the sky, all come to vivid 3D life. All it does is help make this feel like a tremendous world one wants to lives in and makes everything seem so realistic that I swear, sometimes I felt like I could actually wander into some of the films settings.
Looking over it as a whole, I'd say the only major complaint I have with this feature, aside from some extraneous characters, is that I do wish the ending of the film had been just a bit darker. It all feels a bit too upbeat compared to whats come before. But really, How To Train Your Dragon 2 a worthy sequel to a similarly spectacular movie (that does manage to beat this film in quality). Kudos to Director and Writer Dean DeBlois, who obviously has a passion for this movie and its character that shows in the level of care and craft that has gone into making sure this new chapter of Hiccups saga isn't just another mindless family movie diversion. And in case you couldn't guess, they've certainly achieved that lofty goal.
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