Dragons, Vikings, Dreamworks Animation…what a great combination. How to Train Your Dragon came out in 2010 to modest box office results, but went on to become a large sleeper hit. An animation series and multiple toy sales later, a sequel was inevitable. The question is: was there a story big enough to garner a good sequel (like Pixar’s Toy Story series), or will this be another one of those simple adventures for a simple dollar?
“Dragon 2” is indeed a continuation of the story, not just another rehash of the original. There’s a very dark villain Drago Bludvist (played by Djimon Hounsou) who is building a dragon army. His intent: war and power. Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel) tries to see if there’s a way to reason with such a man for the interest of tribal peace. Meanwhile, Hiccup’s father Stoick (played by Gerard Butler) tries to train his dragon-of-a-son for leadership.
Two elements stand out allowing Dragon 2 to both show signs of growth as well as signs of decline. First the growth. The character arches are very well done, and the story advances appropriately without falling into writing cliché traps. While the film has a clear-cut ending, it is clear more story can be told and more is in store for the Vikings of Berk. Granted some of the dialog animation was a little over-exaggerated in scenes, the quality is still above and beyond normal theatrical animations. Some scenes were done so well, one even forgets they are watch animation at all (especially in the scene Guillermo del Toro assisted with). Concerning del Toro’s influence, this is a film which rightly earns its PG rating, and parents are strongly cautioned to view the film first before bringing children under the age of 6 to the theater.
Whenever a story begins a dark turn like Dragon 2 does, the temptation to add more adult-based issues increases. Even when an animation aims to be adult friendly, one must discern where the line is to be drawn between adding too much adult issues in a film whose audience primarily consists of children. Sadly, this is where the writers, directors, and actors are losing sight. Gobber (played by Craig Ferguson) comes “out of the closet” regarding his homosexual orientation, and admits he did not get married because of Gay marriage issues. While the entire statement is not given in the movie itself, Ferguson admitted in an interview that he ad-libbed the line, the director left it in, and will add a gay lover for Gobber in the third movie with a marriage motif and arch. While director Dean DeBlois promised the storyline would not be graphic and too detailed, such a storyline really does not belong in such a child-oriented film. One of the things I really enjoy about some movies are their provision of a guarantee for a break from the social, moral, and political battles of everyday life. While those issues are appropriate to be explored in film, some films benefit by not delving into those issues and allowing the audience to connect with non-divisive topics such as heroism, sacrificing self to help others flourish, good defeating evil, the protection and commitment to morality; the topics which take center stage in Dragon 2 but may get left behind in 3.
In the End:
In short, Dragon 2 is a well made film with a great story. The ad-libbed line did detract a little from the enjoyment (thoughts of “really?” and “why did they leave that in there?”) detracted a little, but does not destroy the overall film. Dragon 2 does have a strong emotional arch in it, so one may want to view with a tissue on hand for a potential tear or three.