How to Train Your Dragon, the heartfelt coming of age tale about a boy and his dragon, was considered by many to be the best Dreamworks animated film to date, when it released back in 2010. It was also the most successful at the box office outside of the studio’s Shrek franchise and one of our favorite movies of the year. As such, the movie’s sequel became one our most anticipated films of 2014.
Celebrating DreamWorks Animation’s 20th anniversary, How to Train Your Dragon 2 held its first public screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Now that reviewers from all around the world have seen the sequel, does it live up to the all the buzz surrounding its release? For the most part, yes.
Set five years after the original, How To Train Your Dragon 2 follows the story of returning heroes Hiccup and his dragon Toothless as they explore the world and chart new territories around their homeland of Berk. When the friends stumble upon a cave full of dragons - and the mysterious Dragon Rider - they find themselves in the middle of a larger conflict between humans and dragons.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois (How To Train Your Dragon), How To Train Your Dragon 2 stars Jay Baruchel (This Is The End), Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen), Craig Ferguson (Brave), America Ferrera (The Good Wife), and Cate Blanchett (The Monuments Men).
As the centerpiece of a dragon-centered trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is tasked with believably extending what felt like a standalone film and bridging the gap between its predecessor and the upcoming finale to the series. Additionally, the sequel must live up to How to Train Your Dragon in terms of story, heart, and box office reception.
Overall, the critics seem to agree that How to Train Your Dragon 2 will actually pull off a successful animated sequel and please fans of the original film (click the links for the full reviews):
If you think training Vikings to coexist with dragons sounds tough, try following up an iconic coming-of-age story within the halls of a publicly traded animation studio. The pressures to make a giant four-quadrant monstrosity must be enormous, and yet, like his unflappable hero Hiccup, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' writer-director Dean DeBlois has prevailed, serving up DreamWorks Animation’s strongest sequel yet — one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original. Braver than 'Brave,' more fun than 'Frozen and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, 'Dragon' delivers.
With this second film in the series, Dean DeBlois (who both wrote and directed the movie) has turned this into the most exciting overall property that DreamWorks has, live-action or animated. The film has an immediate confidence, and they don't spend much time trying to explain the first film. This is a sequel that has its own story to tell and that gets right down to it, and it expands on the ideas from the first film, but in a way that tells a thematically satisfying and complete story. In other words, this is how franchises are supposed to work.
According to the reviews, How to Train Your Dragon 2 especially excels at creating a world in which dragons live alongside humans. While the original film primarily existed in the land of Berk, the sequel takes viewers along for Hiccup and Toothless’s journey outside the only home they’ve ever known to explore new territories, discover new dragons, and experience an exciting adventure:
With Disney in the ascendant, DreamWorks are struggling to keep pace, and there’s nothing here that can hold a candle to that studio’s recent trio of perfectly peachy princess pictures, which culminated last year (and is still culminating, really) in the wonderful 'Frozen.'
But the action sequences here are armrest-gripping fun, and you only wish DeBlois and his animators had been even more confident; held their shots even longer; allowed us to enjoy the whistle of the wind and the curve of the dragons’ flight paths without hurriedly cutting away to another angle, and another, and another. When the film flies, it soars.
Darker, more emotionally complex and with suitably upped spectacle, it's easily DreamWorks' most mature and accomplished film yet. Like its predecessor (in which Hiccup and Toothless were both maimed during the finale) this is a universe that has real stakes and consequences, and as such the emotional gutpunches are all the more affecting.
That's not to say it's in any way all doom and gloom - as with its predecessor, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' nails the grin and envy-inducing wonderment of living in a world in which you can become besties with an adorable cat/dog-like pet dragon.
In comparison to other animated sequels, some critics felt How to Train Your Dragon 2 does not stack up to those from Pixar or Disney. Though it may not be as good as animated films or sequels from other studios, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of the better movies released by DreamWorks. Still, despite fantastic animation and the continuing story of beloved characters, the sequel fell a little short for some critics:
The bad news is that it’s more of a 'Kung Fu Panda 2' than a 'Toy Story 2' in terms of animated sequels, but the good news is that it’s still a fairly decent film, if a decided step down from its predecessor….Few fans of the original are likely to be truly disappointed, and the film is certainly in the top tier of the studio’s output. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t quite have the same beating heart as its predecessor.
…Ultimately this installment, despite its breath-sucking spectacle, is sometimes more of a taxing assault course than a playful training session. Crowded with incident, frame-edge details and extra characters, and considerably scarier and more traumatic to boot, it may all prove a little too rich for the youngest of filmgoers, that key demographic which has kept the franchise fresh in the memory since 2010 through repeated viewings (endlessly repeated, some parents might report) on home entertainment platforms.
Film sequels, especially animated film sequels, can be tricky to pull off. Add in the fact that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is coming four years after its original and ages its main characters from teenagers to young adults and it would be easy to see how DeBlois may have struggled with creating a sequel that appeals to children, teenagers, young adults, and adults alike.
However, while How to Train Your Dragon 2 may feel a bit old for its youngest viewers, the original was also darker than most animated movies, but that helped the older audience members relate to the real-life consequences of the film. From these early reviews, it seems clear that fans of the original film will find just as much to love within the story, the characters, and action set-pieces in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Are you excited by the favorable early reviews for How To Train Your Dragon 2? Do you think the sequel will be able to live up to the original? Let us know in the comments (and look out for Screen Rant’s official review when the film opens in U.S. theaters)!
How To Train Your Dragon 2 flies into theaters on June 13, 2014.