Family Themes Breathe Fire into Dragon Sequel
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2014 13 Jun
DVD Release Date: November 11, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: June 13, 2014
Rating: PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor
Run Time: 102 min.
Director: Dean DeBlois
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington
This review contains discussion of a key plot development that could be considered a spoiler but which is integral to the film's message about family and has already been revealed in some trailers.
Earlier this year, The Lego Movie gave audiences more wit and humor than expected from a corporate movie based on a popular toy. That film was not only funny, but also had a heartwarming father-son story at its heart.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 comes with its own set of expectations—and potential pitfalls. A follow-up to the wildly successful 2010 film from Dreamworks Animation, the movie could have been another crass, commercial sequel, more interested in making a quick buck off the positive memories of the original than in telling an engaging story that could stand on its own.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn't offer the same measure of surprise as did the original, but it has strengths of its own that are different from its predecessor. The first film told the story of how the Viking hero, Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel, RoboCop), and his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, Machine Gun Preacher), mended their relationship in time to save their island, Berk, and live in harmony with fire-breathing dragons, including Hiccup’s beloved dragon, Toothless. Once the credits rolled for that film, there was only one way for the essentially domesticated dragons to go in a sequel—back toward fire-breathing fury. And that’s where we find many of the dragons in How to Train Your Dragon 2, due to the efforts of the new film’s villain, Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Baggage Claim), who turns all dragons into nasty beasts so that he can spread his particular brand of menace.
But How to Train Your Dragon 2 is at its strongest when it fills in the missing piece of Hiccup’s family background, showing how regret and apologies can bring inner restoration, even when war between rival territories rages outwardly.
The land of Berk is at peace as the sequel opens, its inhabitants gathering for regular "dragon races" in which humans ride the flying beasts for the entertainment of others. All is cheery and fun until a nearby tribe, led by Eret (Kit Harington), vows to steal the dragons from Berk and hand them over to the evil Drago.
As Hiccup tries to fend off Drago, he meets the Dragon Hunter, who leads him to a refuge for peaceful dragons of all types, unlike the dragons under Drago's control. The film's message is encapsulated in the Dragon Hunter’s explanation of why some dragons are cruel and others kind: "Good dragons under the control of bad people do bad things."
But there's much more to the story than a message about being kind to our nonhuman companions. Hiccup also learns that the mother he's never known (voice of Cate Blanchett) is still alive. She'd left the family when Hiccup was a baby, but now regrets her decision. "Where was I?" she asks Hiccup, as she comes to terms with the impact of her years of absence. "I'm so sorry." She also reconnects with Stoick, whose love for his wife persists. Scenes of the married couple reconciling are beautiful and should speak powerfully to a generation of kids and adults who have grown up in broken homes. The mother/son dynamic also provides a nice counterbalance to the first Dragon, and to the aforementioned father-son dynamic seen earlier this year in The Lego Movie.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, like its predecessor, lovely to look at, thanks in part to assistance from the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who again serves as a visual consultant on the film. Unfortunately, the 3D presentation darkens the screen image, adversely affecting the otherwise well-crafted visuals, so skip the 3D surcharge if you choose to see the film. Parents should note that the later part of the film includes a scene of family loss that may be especially traumatic for younger viewers, as could some of the battles featuring giant dragons.
Most sequels are a letdown. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a rare exception—if not superior to the first film, an enjoyable enough ride, with a poignant story of family reconciliation at its heart. There may yet be a third Dragon, but for now it's safe to say that the second time around has its charms.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: “Oh, my God”; “soil my britches”; “a steaming heap of dragon …”; “kick Drago’s …”
- Drinking/Smoking: None
- Sex/Nudity: A couple of kisses; a woman shouts "take me!" toward a man she finds attractive; one male character explains that marital strife and "one other reason" are why he never married, with the implication being that the 'other reason' is he's gay (this is intentional on the part of the movie makers but will go over the heads of most kids in the audience)
- Violence/Crime: Explosions; Berk was once described as a land of “kill or be killed” before becoming peaceful; Drago grabs Eret by the neck and chokes him; regurgitation; Drago shows a stump where an arm once was
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: A character says, “gods help us all”; Drago promised safety to those who would bow down and follow dragons; a woman believes that a dragon’s soul reflected her own; a Viking funeral
Publication date: June 13, 2014