It’s not often that a sequel tops the original film but the makers of How To Train Your Dragon have given their imaginations free rein on part two, and they’ve really pulled out all the stops.
For a start, the movie looks glorious; the 3D is the best I’ve ever seen, to such an extent you can actually count the individual hairs in Hiccup’s dad’s beard. But the visuals would be nothing without the story and what is so satisfying here is five years on from the first movie, they’ve allowed the characters to grow and grow up, so this is a coming of age film more than anything else. Another innovation is moving the main action away from the island of Berk, quaint though it is, thus ensuring the narrative is much less insular.
Now dragons have become an integral part of everyday life on Berk, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is spending his days riding out on his trusty dragon and best friend Toothless, ‘mapping’ the world around the island. He’s also perfecting a special flying suit so he can hop on and off Toothless’ back to do some freefall skydiving.
On one of his excursions he comes across an ice island inhabited by loads of free dragons and the mysterious ‘dragon rider’ (voiced by Cate Blanchett with the worst Scottish accent ever) whose skills are a match for his own. Unfortunately he also encounters a band of dragon snatchers who lead him to the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who won’t be happy until all the free dragons have been captured and bent to his will. While young, idealistic Hiccup believes he can reason with Drago, his much older, wiser and more cynical father (Gerard Butler) knows the only way to stop Drago is by using force and so the scene is set for the mother of all battles in which Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship is tested almost to breaking point.
The action scenes, especially the flying scenes, are so effective in 3D you’ll believe you really are sitting on a dragon’s back rushing through the clouds. Refreshingly, sentimentality is kept to a few scenes of a little old lady with her cats – actually baby dragons – while the main thrust of the story isn’t sentimental at all; it’s about growing up and facing difficult decisions and having the guts to admit when you get things wrong.
There is sadness here and bravery and pride and modesty and a growing maturity – not just from Hiccup but also from girlfriend Astrid and from Toothless.
The film is all the better for it and just about as ‘adult’ as an ostensibly ‘children’s’ film can get.