The Boy and His Dragons
I saw “How to Train Your Dragon” only a year after its theater run. As they say, better late than never. I thought it was a great animated film, rising above its contemporaries not only in terms of visuals and voice cast but also in its story and the manner the film told its particular story. I am sure children, the main target of this movie, enjoyed watching the adventures of Hiccup and Toothless. As an adult (and writer of stories for children), I enjoyed the movie’s treatment of issues (gender, conformity, physical disability, etc.) that can be difficult to tell, especially to a young audience.
So when I learned that they decided to make a sequel, I was instantly curious where the creators will take the story. The last act of the first film was quite intense already and as sequels go, there needs to be an expansion and escalation of elements. Unfortunately, in many animated film sequels, these expansion and escalation rarely happens, resulting in many dull, often straight-to-video movies.
I caught the movie and I think that this is one of the best sequels–animated and otherwise–that I have seen in a long while. Writer-director Dean DeBlois effectively upped the ante without sacrificing the integrity of the first film.
Set 5 years after the events in the first film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is grown and is poised to succeed his father as Chief of their village, which has managed to integrate dragons in their daily lives. There is a great opening scene, which bears a resemblance to the Qidditch matches of the Harry Potter films, that shows how the people of Berk have co-existed with the dragons. However, Hiccup will rather keep discovering and mapping the world beyond his own. He is looking for something that he does not clearly know, but he acutely feel its absence in his life.
Events will lead Hiccup to discovering something about his family that will make him understand himself better. Hiccup’s family will get bigger and together they will face a common enemy and fight for what they are most passionate about. Hiccup will once again confront mortality, which has been teased at by the first film, but this time it won’t be his own. In the process, Hiccup recognizes and accepts his role as the leader of his community. The boy becomes the man.
At the start of the film, I got the feeling that the peaceful coexistence of people and dragons was a master-pet relationship. However, Hiccup’s journey was also mirrored by Toothless. The movie also expanded the concept of dragon society with the introduction of the Bewilderbeast, a behemoth of a dragon that breathed ice instead of fire, the alpha dragon. It showed that dragons are sentient beings and not merely pets of people. Instead they too have chosen which person to be with, as each of the characters appeared matched with their dragons (just look at Gobber and his dragon). As Hiccup rose to the challenge of having to face the enemy, so did Hiccup who towards the end, became the alpha dragon. By including Hiccup in this rite of passage, this became an expansion of the coming-of-age theme of the first movie.
Like the first movie, the over-all design and visuals of this film is top-notch. As previously mentioned, the alpha dragon looked like a contemporary of Godzilla and the Kaijus of “Pacific Rim”. The sanctuary of the dragons was also an impressive sight. The excellent voice cast of the first film is also back here, with the clever addition of Cate Blanchett as Hiccup’s lost mother Valka, Djimon Honsou as the big bad Drago, and Jon Snow! (Kit Harrington) as Eret. The first scene with Stoick (Gerard Butler) and Valka was a study in tenderness, plus that very intimate duet that got me teary-eyed.
Another remarkable thing that I noted in the film was the abundance of strong female characters. And I’m not talking about physical strength alone. I like how the ladies in this film have will and agency and leadership skills. I like the fact that even Stoick deferred to Valka’s decision in a critical situation. I like how Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera) supports Hiccup without sacrificing her own capacity to make decisions. Even the way Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) goes after the boy she likes. This movie is a step up from animated films’s movement towards a more empowering depiction of girls and women.
At the end of the film, Hiccup and his peers have grown further, along with their roles in their community. And the dragons have themselves a new alpha. Finally, I learned from an interview with Dean DeBlois that this is a trilogy so I’m curious yet again where the final film in the trilogy will take the story.
Watch this high-flying wonder, won’t you?
Posted on June 22, 2014, in journal, review and tagged America Ferrera, Cate Blanchette, Gerard Butler, How to Train Your Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Jay Baruchel, Kit Harrington, Kristen Wiig, movie. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.