With the Island of Berk now at one with its dragon population Hiccup and Toothless have taken it upon themselves to map what lies beyond the great unknown. There they find not one but two dragon masters, one building a dragon army by force and using it to gain dominion over all the land, the other someone closer to home than Hiccup could ever have expected.
Pixar used to be king. On the subject of CG animation they were everyone’s first port of call and both masters and pioneers of their domain with Dreamworks animation trailing a distant second.
Over the last few years their position and influence has been on the wane, until the end of last year when their truly lacklustre effort, Monsters University, was bested at the box office in a massive way by Disney proper’s Frozen (a surprise to everyone, it must be said), and bested in style and content by virtually every Dreamworks production since the first How to Train Your Dragon feature, which blew everyone away and set a new standard for the previous second runner.
With almost no competition from the now third runner in the wings, expectations have been incredibly high for How to Train Your Dragon 2, and why shouldn’t they be, the first showed the kind of heart, pace, action, design and character that most other films can only dream of achieving, animated or otherwise, but that kind of technical success and fan favour can cast a mighty large shadow.
Indeed, what the first instalment has and always will have above the second is that we just never expected it to be as good as it was, so that besides, how does this sequel compare? Well, not only does it not disappoint, it will take your breath away anew.
From the start, the natural evolutionary improvement of animation and detail is noticeable, but as you’re still coming to terms with it you’re hit with goosebump inducing scenes of dragon flight that are almost uncannily exhilarating. The film doesn’t blow it’s load at the beginning though, you are brought to the edge of excitement again and again, and just when you think it has hit its high point, another surge of emotion or excitement, even bigger than the last, hides just around the next corner, ready to kick you in the giddy wee face.
All the characters from the first film are present and correct, but to make way for new characters, many of them don’t get the amount of screen time that perhaps deserve. This is forgivable though because the leads are fleshed out still further, giving them extra dimension and nuance in a story that, while a little less focused than the first film, gives numerous offerings of high emotion without feeling the need of resorting to cheap melodrama. It’s a rare thing indeed for an all ages film to treat ALL its audience with this level of maturity.
It doesn’t go for cheap laughs either, in truth it hardly goes for outright belly-laughs at all, but the character interplay and the fun exchanges between the dragons keeps a big daft grin planted on your face for the majority of the film.
In fact it is here, with the character animation, as in outward body language of all the characters, most especially the dragons, that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is vastly improved from the first film. If you’re in any doubt just pay special attention to how the dragons play and interact with each other, even when they’re in the background (yet in massive danger steeling each and every scene). Not since WALL.E have non-speaking, anthropomorphised creatures managed to portray such subtle character, the results being pure joy.
So as not to gush at length about every little aspect of the film; the voice actors do another fine job, the texture, scenery/prop design and animation in general are likely to be amongst the best that you’ve ever seen, the character and creature design is stellar… Y’know what? I think you get the idea; it’s a class act from begging to end.
Whether it’s better than the first is arguable, but more than likely How to Train Your Dragon 2 will be a contender for the best film of the year, it’s beautiful, fun, powerful, touching and entirely magical, a must see for anyone of any age in any life style.
A- grade – for originality
A grade – for storytelling
A+ grade – for animation
A grade – for design
Overall grade – A