In a year devoid of a Pixar effort or a Disney film that isn’t Planes 2 (originally planned as a straight-to-DVD release), the other major animation studios have a chance to cement themselves as the cartoon kings of 2014. With How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dreamworks has made a valiant effort to take the crown. Whilst it is not as wildly inventive or funny as Warner Bros’ Lego Movie, it is still a highly effective kid’s film with enough in it to keep everyone in the audience engaged for the full run time, and will almost certainly be superior to any of the films I saw trailed before it (Penguins of Madagascar etc).
5 years after the climax of the first film, dragons are now fully integrated into the society of the small Viking town of Berk, mainly thanks to the efforts of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel). Everyone has their own dragon (essentially flying dog/cat hybrids), from Hiccup with the adorable Toothless to his previously stubborn father (voiced by Gerard Butler) and life, on the whole, is going very well for everyone. This all changes when, on a routine exploration of the wider world by Hiccup and Toothless, it is revealed that a mysterious warlord named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) is building an army of armoured dragons in order to take over the world. This story is, as it sounds, unremarkable, and the motivations for the villain’s actions are patchily explained at best, although it does allow for some very cool fight sequences.
The dragon vs human warfare is definitely a visual highlight is what is a very impressively animated film. Everything looks absolutely stunning, from the serene flights above the cloud level to a utopian dragon sanctuary filled with vivid colours. This is all aided by un-intrusive 3D, used solely to add depth to this distinct, beautiful world rather than chuck gimmicky objects at the audience. The character design is not exactly unique on the human front, but every dragon looks fantastic, each with their own physical features and mannerisms and Toothless is the best animated animal this side of Finding Nemo.
It’s a shame, then, that the script can’t quite keep up. As discussed above, the Big Bad is pretty much a non-character, existing only to be evil with the assistance of a giant Alpha Dragon, and the comedic moments generally fall a bit flat, especially in the cringey interactions between Kristen Wiig’s Ruffnut and new heartthrob Eret (Kit Harington). Maybe it’s because I was so spoiled by the Lego Movie, but witty, sharp humour need not be mutually exclusive with a film where the target demographic is small children. The subplot involving Hiccup’s family, including his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) is handled far better and is behind the emotional climax of the film which, thanks to the incredibly expressive animations, is hard not to get involved with.
The main reason for How to Train Your Dragon 2 to exist is it’s incredible visuals and the rest of the film does enough to support them, without ever managing to fully surpass the general problems which affect non-Pixar animated fare. However, slamming a kids’ film for a lack of emotional depth is not an entirely fair thing to do and the way in which the film makes you wish that you could be a part of its world is a great success, so I’d still recommend seeing it in cinemas
Written and Directed by Dean DeBlois
Starring; Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou
Run time; 102 mins