Dreamworks Animation has usually been a cut below Pixar and Disney. It is a sad truth because their films tend to be much more fun, but they often lack that emotional depth and very rarely can they compete with what Pixar would offer. Even if they do make a good standalone film they go too far by adding too many sequels such as Shrek. So when they announced that plans were being made to produce a sequel of How to Train Your Dragon, I was very sceptical. The first was an unusually emotional film based upon an unlikely friendship and the pressure of following in the footsteps of those around you.
The second film, even more surprisingly, echoes those themes as well as introducing new elements, resulting in an equal, if not better, effort than its predecessor. As the young Viking Hiccup continues to explore the world with his dragon Toothless, he discovers a much larger conflict brewing between humans and dragons, with him right at the centre. On top of gaining more critical acclaim the film will undoubtedly help bring in more income for a hit starved studio.
Starting with the strongest aspect of the film, the themes, it is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into making sure that the characters are still human and relatable. They can all convey and shadow the aspects of war, responsibility and family that were present in the first and emphasised more for this instalment. Like most sequels it is a little darker, but loses none of the fun, imagination and flamboyancy of the original. It also opens up a world of possibilities for a very successful film franchise. There is already a wide mythology behind the series, and if all of the upcoming films could be as well-crafted as the first two, we could have a genuinely epic fantasy animation saga.
But focussing on this particular film alone, the tone is decidedly more serious. It confronts all of the issues raised head on rather than just skirting around them. The unlikely friendship that was established in the first film is now put to a greater challenge after being introduced to a much wider world. As well as this it echoes the theme of responsibility on a much stronger tone this time. Before the responsibility aspect was overwhelmed by the morality of what the characters were doing and more about freewill over what others believe in. This one holds a more inevitable fate for our protagonist, but I won’t spoil anything.
The film is also visually stunning, and I mean really stunning. Some dragon battle scenes feel more like a scene from Lord of the Rings rather than an animated film. The heart-warming element of the first film is cast aside slightly to take the franchise to the next level. Like it’s central characters, the film has grown up a lot and if there is any problem with it, they have made things very difficult for the next part. Some of the charm might be lost as well, and there is a tiny danger of the rapid growth being too much of a step forward. However I need to focus on this film alone, and it is very successful, being just as action packed and emotional as the first film. If you are looking for an animated summer fun-filled-festival, with a serious note as well, head straight to How to Train Your Dragon 2.