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From the earliest trailers of this sequel to the 2010 original hit, one might have guessed that this installment would be good, even if it wasn’t to be as good as the first. As the release date for Dragon 2 swiftly approached, weak-sequel worries might have creeped in, but I am here to say at this point that worrying is not necessary. Rest assured Fusers, this is a very strong animated film that lives up to the standard set by its predecessor while providing a deeper emotional experience.
This film picks up roughly five years after the events of the first, with Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and company all a little older and living in harmony with their once sworn enemies, the dragons. All is well until Hiccup learns of others who do not share his views on coexisting with dragons. This discovery leads him on a journey of deeper self-discovery and other revelations of the “earth-shattering” kind. Along the way, Hiccup finds he still has much to learn not only about himself, but also about dragons.
The core of How to Train Your Dragon has always been about the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. This is the very heart around which every other element of the story is built. That was definitely the case with the original and is the case here however, while I believe there is an expansion of the theme of the intimacy shared by best friends (it includes other dragon riders who also share a bond with dragons), I feel also that Hiccup’s relationship with Toothless takes a bit of a backseat to other equally important relationships, which isn’t a bad thing since we already know how inseparable Toothless and Hiccup are. It does allow room for Hiccup to explore relationships with other characters in order to be taught something new about how he engages the world, which ultimately makes him a richer character.
Sure, Dragon 2 is a tour de force of cinematic beauty. This movie feeds your eyes with treats of the gourmet kind. It is visually striking and of course, every flight sequence is exhilarating. It is humorous at times and yet dares to go dark. All of the aforementioned bits are almost a given for this kind of film. The real treat here though, is the emotional resonance it carries. This film is right up there with some of the best animated features that know how to balance smaller, more intimate moments with the larger than-life adventures the characters embark upon. It is the smaller, quieter points that are just as strong as any action sequence. In fact, they made every action sequence mean more. The ways in which this movie feeds your heart should also be noted.
Second films in a three picture franchise (yes, there is a third Dragon flick planned) often seem as if they have more work to do than their predecessors. They are expected to be as good or better than what came before. Good follow-up films should serve to both expand the story established in the original, and yet not feel as if it is living in the shadow of the original. It should be able to stand apart as its own entity as well as fit in nicely with the overall story of a trilogy as a whole. Dragon 2 fits the bill exceptionally well and does so almost effortlessly. It is up there with the best ‘Part 2 pictures’ in cinema like, Spider-Man 2, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, or the more recent The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, to name a few. The characters are more richly developed, Toothless included, the world more intricately depicted and the themes move into darker, more mature and ambiguous territory.
This is a film that deepens the notion of lost souls finding each other, finding their purpose and ultimately accepting their destinies. It’s a film that highlights the importance of trying, even if failure is certain. It also underscores the lessons learned from failure. Dreamworks has had its share of flops in its history of producing animated films, but this movie is far from a failure. It passes the test with flying colors.