How to Train Your Dragon is one of the best animated features ever to hit the Oscar race. It wasn’t going to win, of course. Toy Story 3 was destined to claim the prize in 2010 as a culmination of Pixar’s trilogy that had somehow gone Oscarless until then. Now four years later, the second installment of How to Train Your Dragon has retained much of the magic of the first but this time has shifted more emphasis to the dragons and less on the people. In this case that means the animators get to really show off what they can do. Turns out, what they can do is very impressive.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 feels like a giant leap forward with animation. It isn’t just the way the dinosaurs themselves are animated, which is otherworldly and unlike anything we’ve seen before, either in the first film or in any film like it. The diversity among the species, the array of features and color, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If you need any reason at all to see this film see it for the sheer artistry of the animation.

But really what drove the first film, and what drives this second film, are the relationships, not just between Hiccup and his family (both Dragon films have been among the few animated films to bring me to tears) but between the humans and the dinosaurs. This is a film about our dominion over all other living things and why we sometimes are too stupid or narrow-minded to recognize how intelligent they are and deeply loyal they can be when treated well.

We catch back up with Hiccup who has now bloomed into a handsome young man. He has taught himself how to fly using his own makeshift wings and still does all of his flying around with his trusty dragon Toothless. The key difference between the first film and this new film is that Hiccup is no longer a misfit outcast but is, rather, the town badass.

Without spoiling too much, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is once again about preserving the dragons. You already know from the name in the trailers that Cate Blanchett voices one of the main characters. If you don’t want to know anything more, there is a major spoiler coming your way.

Blanchett plays Hiccup’s mother in one of the more unusual moves in any animated film these days. To have a mother at all is rare but to have one who is herself a pioneer of a dinosaur sanctuary? Unbelievable. You mean she’s an actual person who cares more about the well being of a whole species than she does her own love life? You know most animated women just stand in the shadow of the male characters or else spend the entire film waiting for the male character to arrive and protect them. Frozen was an important exception and judging from its success you can see how eager humanity — men and women alike — has been for some breathing room in that suffocating dynamic. How to Train Your Dragon 2 kind of goes there, though not completely. For instance, this is, was and will always be Hiccup’s story. He, like almost all animated characters (or any characters in American film for that matter) is here to save the day. This is his hero’s story.

More action, more dazzling flying dragons, more Hiccup and Toothless. Less Astrid and the gang, who serve as side characters with not a lot to do but gaze lovingly at Hiccup at he sets out to save the dragons from destruction. The story does not flinch in its telling, and the relationships explored here go very deep. The overall theme of kindness towards dragons and all living things is what drives both Dragon movies, and other than the first rate animation, are the main reasons to see the film.

Hopefully this is a year when How to Train Your Dragon 2 might reap some of the rewards the original film should have received. The Dreamworks animators have significantly raised the bar here. Whether the Academy will pay attention or not is another story. I suspect that they might.

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  • You’re not the only one who’s said that this film goes pretty deep. Not what I was expecting, and it makes me intrigued to see this. After uninspiring promo footage, I now have a genuine interest in How to Train Your Dragon 2, of a level that reflects my respect for the first HTTYD film.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    Glad to hear!

    In the mostly barren sea of American animation, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, is the best the studios have done since RATATOUILLE, with the nice high points in between of TOY STORY 3, UP, and KUNG FU PANDA. Now it looks like the sequel is up there too 🙂

  • m1

    I haven’t loved a Dreamworks animated movie since Wallace and Gromit 9 years ago, so here’s hoping HTTYD2 will fix that.

  • Trev

    My predictions for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature:

    -It’s branding of LEGO might turn off some voters, but the hugely enthuastic response from critics will most likely at least get the film a nomination.
    -Other possible nominations: Best Original Song (Everything is Awesome) and Best Original Screenplay

    -Reviews coming out of Cannes are pretty positive, and if they live up to the legacy of the original, then this sequel should have no problem landing a nomination; and possibly even a win.
    -Other possible nominations: Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing

    -The Academy loves stop-motion, so as long as The Boxtrolls lives up to LAIKA’s previous two efforts (Coraline and ParaNorman), expect the Academy to give these trolls a spot.

    BIG HERO 6
    -Disney has been on a roll lately with their films, and as long as this Marvel adaption bodes well with critics (and the talent behind the camera suggest that it will), expect Big Hero 6 to join the reigns of Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled. But the question is, can the film get Disney another win?
    -Other possible nominations: Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing


    Mr. Peabody & Sherman
    -If the race isn’t packed this year, then Dreamworks well-reviewed adaption of the old cartoon characters can slip in. But in my opinion, I think the race will be a little too intense for this flick.

    The Book of Life
    -Reel FX is behind this movie. Last year’s Free Birds wasn’t a too good debut for the studio, but with Del Toro as producer, as well as a strong Latino cast (and Channing Tantum, who already impressed this year in The Lego Movie), The Book of Life can be a strong contender. However, the movie is only a couple of months away from release, and little has been shown of the film, An art-book is due to be released soon, but unless the marketing team is doing the Frozen route, The Book of Life may be expecting a release date push.

    -Home won’t come out to later this year in November, so it’s hard to predict how it will do. The premise isn’t too captivating, and similar animated movies Planet 51 and Escape from Planet Earth were downright horrible. But it is Dreamworks we’re talking about, and the director has worked on a couple of strong animated movies before. Voice cast will include Jim Parsons and Rihanna, who will also be involved in the soundtrack (Best Original Song nomination possibly?)

    -Of course, there is always the possibility of a smaller, foreign title popping in. But if these movies listed above perform well in the awards race, then it might just be the big studios fighting it out this year.

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