Box Office Democracy: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”
I came late to the first How To Train Your Dragon film. I caught it on HBO well over a year after release and while I thought the “better than Toy Story 3” hype was a touch overblown it was a revelation for DreamWorks Animation, which had previously churned out franchises like Shrek and Madagascar that I flat out detested. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not quite as good as the first one but it’s a fine film that should hold up a little better to being driven in to the ground like every other shiny thing DreamWorks gets its hands on.
Where How to Train Your Dragon 2 shines is in the amazing action sequences. The wide variety of dragons keeps it visually interesting and when it wants to the movi keeps the screen in constant fervent motion. It’s definitely the kind of movie that can hypnotize a theater full of small children. This is better action than Pixar produces, this is better action than Disney or Blue Sky put out, this is the standard bearer for animated action. I don’t know what that’s worth as the rest of the field seems to be focusing on pulling on heartstrings and wow-ing academy voters but as a stalwart defender of the live-action popcorn action movie I must stand and recognize the efforts of the animated equivalent.
It might not be completely fair but I think the thing most holding me back on this movie is the performance of Jay Baruchel as the lead. I hate the voice he’s doing here and you have to hear it an awful lot. It’s grating and annoying and while I understand how that serves the character of an outcast intellectual Viking I can’t let my ears hang out in the platonic ideal the voice seems to be serving. I don’t like hearing him talk and so I hated having the main character on screen. That’s a pretty big problem for a movie to have.
I’ve also saluted the politics of Frozen and Maleficent so I feel obliged to ding How to Train Your Dragon 2 for feeling awfully regressive in places. The movie does not pass the Bechdel Test and, more importantly, the second most prominent returning female character is given a storyline where she’s obsessed with this bad boy dragon trapper even after he’s terrible to her and even goes as far as to basically molest him at times. None of the female characters here are ones I’d be comfortable with my non-existent daughter’s modeling themselves after and I don’t know that there’s space for characters like that in this genre any more.
But really, no one is considering or not considering this movie for its politics. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is fun when it wants to be fun, stunningly sad when it wants to be sad and ultimately the best kids movie I’ve seen this year. The shortcomings are far exceeded by the sheer joyousness of the picture and that’s a near impossible thing to nitpick away.