Movie Review: 'How to Train Your Dragon 2'

By: Rowan Walrath
| Published 06/16/2014



THE WOODLANDS, Texas - How To Train Your Dragon 2 lives up to its adorable predecessor. We begin with an updated view of the village of Berk: five years after Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) convinced the citizens that dragons are more like giant rideable puppies than terrifying monsters, Hiccup's dragon-riding friends and girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera) are competing in what looks like a version of Quidditch with dragons. Hiccup himself is still something of a self-proclaimed outcast, exploring beyond the village in an attempt to expand Berk's horizons.

What Hiccup doesn't expect, however, is the cast of characters these explorations will lead him to. After a short encounter with some henchmen, he finds himself entangled in a whole other world of dragons. And whereas in Berk, Vikings coexist peacefully with their dragons, not all dragon riders have such innocuous intentions.

There is also a fair amount of angst between Hiccup and his burly Viking chieftain of a father, Stoick (Gerard Butler). Even though Hiccup won over his father in the first movie, the two have clashing ideals that, at first glance, have the potential to result in disaster.

By contrast, one person Hiccup can sympathize with--because he is so much like her--is his long-lost mother, a vigilante dragon rescuer named Valka (Cate Blanchett) who was introduced in trailers. While she gives off maternal vibes in her heartwarming reunion with Hiccup, she also shows a certain amount of psychological damage: this woman had to leave her family and has had only dragons as companions for 20 years. Valka is, happily, a complex character. She has both our admiration, as a dragon rescuer and fierce woman, and our sympathy as a haunted mother and wife.

The dragons, too, are complex characters. They may be giant rideable puppies, but they tug at the audience's heartstrings the other way, too. I won't spoil the movie, but in some of the darkest scenes, the dragons are used as tools of both physical and psychological warfare. This adds a more sinister layer to what would otherwise be strictly a children's movie.

In interviews released last month, Dreamworks informed us that one of the characters would be coming out as gay in the film. The so-called coming out, however, was a disappointment. Unlike movies such as Paranorman, in which a character speaks excitedly of his boyfriend, How To Train Your Dragon 2barely gives the gay character a gay line. It's an ad-libbed, throwaway one-liner that gets lost in the other lines and fails to live up to the manufactured hype.

Where Dreamworks fails in LGBTQ representation, however, it succeeds in disabled representation. In the first film, Toothless lost half his tail, and Hiccup lost a leg. Now, both characters are working together to train, fly and simply exist as characters. It's a happy and refreshing development.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a visual feat by Dreamworks and a fantastical world filled with varied, complex characters. The audience is swept along by Hiccup's characteristically sarcastic narrative voice and stopped in its tracks by some darker scenes whose descriptions would constitute spoilers. And, of course, the characters and the dragons provide comic relief. Dreamworks succeeds in creating a family-friendly movie that speaks to an older audience as well.