“With vikings on the backs of dragons, the world just got a whole lot bigger.” So declares Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) in the opening sequence of DreamWorks’ latest animated feature “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”
There are flaming swords in this movie. There are catapulting sheep. There are tears and laughs. There are new lands. There are vikings. There are dragons. There are vikings on dragons, and occasionally, dragons on vikings. This movie doesn’t just take place in a bigger, richer world; it has all the moving parts necessary to make it epic, the exquisite animation to highlight those parts and the inexhaustible stamina to actually pull it off.
Instead of dimming the enthusiastic flames for a sequel, the four-year gap between the original “How to Train Your Dragon” and “HTTYD2” only seems to have boosted the energy of the characters and the film’s creators. The conflicts, action and intensity are more mature in this film, developing along with the characters for whom five years have passed. Dragons are now a positive and productive part of life in the village of Berk. The kids are all grown up and Stoick (Gerard Butler), Hiccup’s father and Berk’s chief, has decided that Hiccup is ready to become the next village leader. But living in a bigger world has its drawbacks, and when outsiders threaten the hard-won peace of Berk, Hiccup and Toothless (Randy Thom) set off to find a way to prevent a war, rescue kidnapped dragons and, if possible, escape the destiny Stoick has in store for them.
This is the first DreamWorks animated film that seemed to display a signature that was uniquely DreamWorks. “HTTYD2” draws on many of the most recognizable and memorable details and qualities of its earlier films. Hiccup, like many other DreamWorks leading men is a spunky but lovable underdog. The sheep of Berk are clearly just humorless minions. The film’s evil villain (Drago Bludvist) sports a subdued version of Gru’s nose.
Like an onion, this film has multiple layers. And just like “Shrek 2,” “HTTYD2” seriously threatens to overshadow its predecessor, which is a difficult feat given that most sequels tend to feebly regurgitate the story of the original. On its own, this film is an exciting and captivating experience, but as a part of a larger canon, it represents, in brilliant colors, the DreamWorks animated films as a cohesive collection of stories with a style all their own.
One of the few downsides of this movie is that Bludvist, delightfully grisly and maniacal as he is, is also kind of without a personal goal. Though he plots for world domination and control over, well, everything, his character is not given enough attention in the film to flush out the motivations behind his power-lusting and what he envisions for the future.
This wouldn’t be a particularly problematic aspect of the story if the powers of the good guys — Hiccup and Co. — didn’t rely so heavily on emotional attachment — love, friendship — as its driving force. When it isn’t clear what kind of evilness the people and dragons of Berk are fighting, the dialogue and actions of their defense becomes kind of muddled and senseless. Instinctively, the audience seems to know what they’re getting at — that friendship, love and compassion are the most powerful forces in all the universe ever. But in a film that articulates its settings and action and characters with so much detail and precision, it’s a letdown to see it falter in some of the climactic moments.
Plot, aesthetics and emotional attachment aside, this movie swallows you whole. And when it finally spits you back out, as the credits roll, the 20-somethings in the back of the theater will already be discussing possible storylines for future installments, while an actual kid will declare, “It was so awesome.” And it’s true; it is awesome.
Contact Anne Ferguson at [email protected].