John Ostrander’s Late Look: How To Train Your Dragon 2
I don’t always get out to see movies these days and I’ve missed some this summer that I wanted to see. My Mary and I had a chance to sneak in a film this week and we chose to catch How To Train Your Dragon 2 before it disappeared from the movie theaters. We had seen the first one and I had been impressed: good story, good animation, and a sense of things having consequences.
I liked the sequel even more.
I should note that sequels can be notoriously difficult to pull off well. You’ve already told your story. What else do you have and, if it’s any good, why didn’t you tell it first? Mind you, there are notable exceptions to the rule. Godfather II is not only better than the first film, it’s often described as one of the best films of all time. The Empire Strikes Back is also a better film than its predecessor and, for many Star Wars fans, the best of the bunch. The Dark Knight was, for me, the best Batman film thus far.
However, you have others that just don’t live up to the original. Iron 2 was rather sucky, for example. Superman 2 was not as good as its predecessor. Babe is a favorite film in our house; Babe 2… rarely watch it. Once upon a time Warner Bros considered making a sequel to Casablanca. Fortunately, they never got around to it.
The problem with a lot of sequels is that they exist, not because the creators have a new vision but because the studio, seeing how much money the first one made, wants another bite of that apple. Sometimes, all you get is a refried version of the first movie.
So – what makes How To Train Your Dragon 2 even better than the original? (Mandatory spoiler warning now issued. If you haven’t seen it yet – and you should – you may want to avoid the rest of the column. I’ll be as circumspect as I can.)
The animation is better, and it was pretty good last time, but the studio has improved its technique. The “acting” of the characters is better. There’s a scene between our young male lead, Hiccup (yes, that’s his name and one of the unfortunate bits of the two movies), voiced by Jay Baruchel, and his girlfriend, Astrid, voiced by America Ferrera. Hiccup is imitating his father and Astrid is imitating Hiccup down to physical gestures. It’s not just that they both do pretty good imitations but that they look like people doing imitations. It’s very deftly done.
The characters have all aged since the first film. This film is set about three years or so after the first, which is the actual time in between the two films. Hiccup is older and more grown up physically, how he acts, how he dresses, and so on. We get the sense that they’ve had lives in-between the two films.
Most of all, the story takes chances. A major character in the two films is killed and it’s not only the death but who does the killing and why that makes a real impact. It has emotional resonance both in the story and for those watching. At one point, I wasn’t sure how they were going to find a “happy ending,” assuming they could. They did and it was legitimate and it was thrilling. My heart cheered.
The second film builds solidly on the first but, no, you don’t need to have seen the earlier film to enjoy this one. It works on its own.
I’m somewhat hesitant to recommend films; your tastes may not align with mine. That said, I do recommend How To Train Your Dragon 2. It wasn’t just a good animated film, it was a good film period. Worth seeing on the big screen.