How To Train Your Dragon II picks up the action five years on from the end of the first. Man and fire-breathing Beast have learned to live in harmony. Hiccup, free-thinker and dreamer, still has his head in the clouds. But now, thanks to the entente cordiale between the former dragon-killing village of Berk and their prey, so does everyone else. There are few things more fun than flying about on the back of a dragon, after all. Stoic thinks it time for his only son to succeed him as chieftain of the clan, but Hiccup is hesitant. There’s a world waiting to be explored on the back of Toothless, his loyal friend and dragon. The responsibility of leadership will only weigh him down.
The uneasy balance he tries to strike is upended when he stumbles into a dragon trapper called Eret, a serf in the service of Drago Bludvist. Drago is a bloodthirsty maniac, intent on world domination through the army of dragons he has amassed and is controlling. Hiccup escapes to warn his father. Stoic knows Drago, and believes the only course of action is to prepare for war. Hiccup, the idealist, thinks otherwise; disobeying his father, he heads out to track down Drago and talk sense with him. But before this happens, he is taken captive by a mysterious masked wraith, seemingly with the capacity to communicate with dragons like nothing Hiccup has seen. Despite himself, Hiccup senses something benign; the scene is set for a three-way clash of dragon-wielding titans, Hiccup the very slender thread that can pull them together peaceably…
Unlike my seven-year-old – on whose recommendation I went along to watch this last weekend – I hadn’t watched the first installment of what is ultimately intended to be a trilogy. (I say “recommendation:” What I mean is that he almost fainted with excitement when he saw a promotional poster, a couple of months back. Seriously. You don’t get recommendations much more effusive than this.) It is a charming film, at least a couple of notches above the usual animated fare that is served up for children.
Trust and loss, the two themes that dominate the film, are on the whole subtly juxtaposed into proceedings. One easily appreciates, for instance, that the first film was underpinned by the delicate matter of Man and Beast living with one another without whole-scale Dragon slaughter (on the part of Man) or human barbecues (on the part of Beast). There are also poignant undertones: Hiccup has had to learn to live with a prosthetic limb, just as Toothless – the Night Fury dragon that becomes his friend and his guide into the world of dragons – learnt to fly with an artificial tail fin. The identity of the mysterious figure who takes Hiccup captive resonates all the more for these. Beneath the derring-do and dragon-flying, How To Train Your Dragon has an emotionally intelligent plot that resonates with both young and old.
Not everything works quite so well. Astrid – Hiccup has a crush on her, dating back to the first film, I am informed – has a slight, secondary role here. Given the centrality of her character, I rather suspect she had more of a presence in the first film, and can’t but wonder at her relegation now. The animation is bright, detailed and colourful, but so fast paced that at times it becomes a visual blur, the viewer hanging on for dear life. (We watched the film in 3D; a third of the way through, my companion took off his glasses and refused to put them back on.)
But what matters ultimately, I guess, is what one takes away from the film. I liked it; the seven-year-old was physically prepared to go straight back to watch it again. His argument is that if we watch it in 2D and English (rather than the dubbed version), it will be like watching it all over again. That counts as a two thumbs up, no?
How to Train Your Dragon II (2014)
Directed by Dean DeBlois
Starring Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill
102 minutes, English w. Hebrew subtitles, Hebrew (dubbed).