Variation and character progression are two descriptions you don’t usually use for animated sequels. Once you’ve established the characters and their traits in the initial movie, the sequel usually treads familiar ground, rehashing old jokes or playing on the relationships and dynamics it has already built and developed. Perfect examples are the Shrek movies, which don’t add anything except new characters to what was built so brilliantly in the first (and to some extent the second) movie. Also any straight-to-dvd Disney sequels, which just takes the same characters and finds another way to tell a very similar story.
Pixar don’t do anything drastically different either. Toy Story works because they put the same characters in different, increasingly complex stories, but the same message shines through and the actual development of any of the core characters is minimal (don’t get me wrong, I love the Toy Story trilogy).
How to Train your Dragon changes things though. For starters, it ages the characters involved. Not usually something you find in animated sequels, the characters of Hiccup, and his friends around him, are all now in their early twenties. They are growing facial hair, have deeper voices and act like people who have experience riding, and training, dragons. It forces the movie to move forward and develop the characters, meaning a new dynamic and a whole new story is necessary.
Luckily, there is a very good story behind the sequel. Instead of Hiccup having to convince his tribe that dragons are friendly creatures, he is using his new companion to explore and discover new parts of the world. It is here that he makes two startling discoveries, a nasty new enemy who is trying to capture and create a dragon army and Hiccup’s long-lost Mother, who is something of a dragon expert herself.
It makes for a much more complex story than the first but means we suitably increase the tension and scope for a sequel. The stakes are much higher, the action sequences are much more thrilling and the dragons much more elaborate. In fact, it is in this area that How to Train your Dragon 2 excels. Not just more dragons but cooler dragons, including an amazing battle in the middle of the movie that showcases why dragons are becoming major characters in many other fantasy franchises.
It’s also a dragon that steals the movie. There is plenty of great characters and very well written relationships but it’s still the relationship between Hiccup and his dragon Toothless that makes the movie so watchable. From their moments flying and interacting alone to the main battle scenes that showcase how the characters have developed.
It’s not just the relationship between the humans and dragons that have improved. The reunion of the family members is handled touchingly and without cliché. It’s accompanied by an amazing soundtrack too, something which makes the movie pack much more of an emotional, exciting or tragic effect whenever the story requires it.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great addition to a flourishing franchise with a heap of potential. The second movie also demonstrates how the franchise is building something bigger and not getting lazy with its storytelling, developing the characters and their responsibilities even further.
Overall, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great example of how to build on a great opening, animated movie of a franchise. The story increases the stakes, the action is bigger and bolder and the dragons so much cooler. It also leaves the door open for a great final movie in what could be a Toy Story rivalling trilogy.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)