How to Train Your Dragon 2

Like its predecessor, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is strongest in its family stories. This series doesn't win for having the best animation, voice acting, or world building. It does well in all of these categories, but what set apart “How to Train Your Dragon” were the relationships. The original resonated with audiences because of the relationships between Hiccup and Toothless; as well as between Hiccup and his father, Stoic. The first movie captured great emotions like the feeling of a boy with his dog, for the freedom of leaving home just to explore or feel the wind in your hair. It also nailed the relationship between fathers and their children. Their lack of communication felt so frustratingly real. While the dragons were fantastic and fun, a father and son trying to understand each other never really grows old for me. 

 

Warning: This is a spoiler-filled post. If you haven;t seen “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, turn back now.

 

Reaction

This movie continues to get it right by focusing on family. True, there was great new dragon lore, Including Hiccup’s use of the fire sword and gas, but the introduction of his mother and the path of his father are what held my attention. 

So much could have gone astray with this movie. For a moment, I was worried that the drama of whether or not Hiccup with listen to his father and become chief would start to feel like a retread of the last movie. I should've known better. Nearly a decade after the last movie, Hiccup lamenting over not knowing his place in the world might have felt a little overly whiny, but it felt so natural. It turned out to be a great setup for his mother’s introduction. Hiccup only needed to be shown another side of himself. His mother showed him how he wasn't just an outcast, that he wasn’t so alone in his relationship with the dragons. For a brief moment, we are given a glimpse of what Hiccup could be if he only focused on his care of the dragons. But as we come to realize, this series is far smarter than that - far more creative too. 

A lesser movie would've stopped there, but this series needs to makes things hard by pointing out the truth in life is that decisions are rarely black-and-white. Hiccup couldn't choose to leave the tribe like his father or protect the dragons like his mother. He wasn’t just like his mother or father. He still and to find his own way in the world. Hiccup had to find a way to bring the worlds together. Of course, we as the audience get to see that point driven home by the tearjerking death and funeral of Hiccup’s father. Hiccup’s relationship with his father is like many of ours with our loved ones, there is never enough time. While most of us don't bury our loved ones in a Viking funeral with fire arrows and all, the moment still resonated. Many of us of been in the unfortunate circumstance where we have to reconcile the impact of a loved one's life on our own. When weighing out what that person was to us, we seem to find new clarity. 

This is the strength of the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. It gets the story right, focusing on its characters and the emotional center of the film. 

 

The Marketing 

Sometimes the way a movie is marketed is noteworthy in itself. Sometimes movies are marketed brilliantly, creating buzz and demand for a movie people would not otherwise be excited to see. In other cases, movie marketing gives away too much in the trailer, advertises to the wrong crowd, or simply falls flat. This movie suffered the latter.

When the original trailer was released, I saw the tweets noting that the creators didn't want you to see this trailer. As I recall, the animators were upset because a major spoiler was given away. So I waited. I waited for months, only seeing the teaser of Hiccup flying with Toothless. I am very glad that I did. After the movie, my wife and I looked into all of the official trailers, as well as the TV commercials. I am simply astounded that the twist concerning Hiccup’s mother was given away so clearly in all points. The commercials and trailers contain the reveal. They included the alphas. They left so little to see in the final film. 

I'm aware of the divisive points of view when it comes to spoilers. Some people think that we need to avoid spoilers like the plague; others believe that spoilers have no impact on whether or not people will see or enjoy a movie. I prefer to avoid spoilers, and I hate when I cannot reasonably avoid them. Beyond my opinion, I just don't think the spoilers provided any advantage for the studio. 

I think revealing Hiccup’s mother was the wrong way to sell the movie, and it weakened the experience. We benefit from learning about the mysterious dragon rider from Hiccups’s perspective. If we don't know this twist is coming, we can genuinely be surprised and confused. It's a major part of the experience of watching this movie. Furthermore, I'm not sure who thought that kids would be excited to see this movie because Hiccup’s mother was introduced. Kids are excited to see dragons. It's okay that they don't want to see a family drama. It is all right if they want to see the adventures of kids riding dragons. There were so many great moments in this film to show, why dwell so much on the complex relationship between Hiccup in his mother. Did “The Lion King” succeed because kids wanted to watch the death of Mufasa and Simba’s acceptance of responsibility? Of course not.

I'm very curious as to whether or not this mishandling of the movie marketing affected the box office success of this sequel. Before the release, word was spreading about plans for not only a third movie but a fourth. There were no other animated films for kids to compete with this movie. DreamWorks had the great opportunity of having a year without Pixar, how they screw this up?

 

Additional thoughts

  • If you paid attention, there were many subtle points popped up , providing details of the larger story. This kid-friendly movie didn't overtly point out the horrors of dragons trapped in steel cages that caught their wings, but you could see in the background. Did you catch that line noting that Hiccup was born premature? These subtle details display how this movie was made for everybody, even if it had primarily needed to appeal to children. Pixar does this so well, and it's good to see other studios finding the talent to do this.
  • This movie includes a big investment in Astrid, which will likely be a focus of the next movie(s). I do wish that she had a bit more significance in the movie, but I'm not sure that there was room for her to have such a role. She led an important side plot, putting Berk in serious danger, but the resolution written belonged entirely too Hiccup and Toothless. I’m sure something had to give in a story this expansive.
  • I now want every movie like this to share concept art in the credits. Not only were we treated to beautiful artwork, you're given a peek behind-the-scenes at the vision that became the final movie. I think it's a great way to celebrate the creators, And relive what would just experienced.

 

Conclusion

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" succeeds in expanding the story be further exploring the world, its characters, and the mythology of the dragons. Amidst all of this growth, the creators avoided getting lost in world-building and retained the emotional core of the original. I’m not sure that the sequel surpassed the original, but it was a sting follow-up. I selfishly hope that the future of this series is intact, as I want to see more.