I had enjoyed the original How to Train your Dragon. It was the movie that made 3D movies seem like a viable thing instead of that gimmick that your mom thinks it cool. There was obvious love of the material, and the visuals never ceased to amaze. It set itself apart a bit and I remember it as slightly above the average animated film.
So it's a bit of a surprise that I can say that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of my top five, if not favorite animated film of recent years. It's better than any movie has any right to be. For kids or adults. There's nary a misstep (maybe a slightly better fleshed out villain), in the movie's 105 minutes.
But let's start at the beginning. Briefly, we start with Hiccup again - only now he's 5 years older than the last film. He is an explorer of sorts, mapping out the world with his faithful dragon toothless - the alleged last of his kind. His father wants him to become chief of the village of Berk for all the good he's done for it. Right off the bat Hiccup runs into dragon catchers who claim they're raising a dragon army.
Sounds pretty cliche so far, right? But that's the thing, it's not. At its heart this is a story of people and animals that are missing pieces, but are not broken. Toothless is missing part of his tail fin. Hiccup lost his left foot at the end of the previous film. He was able to overcome his disability, and turn it into a strength. Hiccup's mother ran away when he was a child and obviously feels great remorse and guilt. When she meets Hiccup she fully expects him to hate her for abandoning him. Ditto when Stoic comes around. She's been carrying all that guilt with her for 20 years - needlessly.
The villain in the film (KAL DROGO...ok not really) is someone who wasn't able to overcome his disability. Where others found strength within themselves, the villain wants to prove he has control over his surroundings so he never has to feel fear again. Where others may have bent, before snapping back, he broke. He uses his power to cow others into following him. Whereas the dragon riders of Berk use a synergistic approach to their dragons - you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours - he uses raw power and fear to make the dragons follow his orders.
There are several subplots that run through this film and some very adult themes for all its PG rating. I left the film being rather....depressed. Characters die, and not in a cheesy, "Oh they're gone and that's it!" sort of way, like when that one Native American is shot in Pocahontas. There's gravity to the situation. You expect the character to pop back up or some Deus Ex Machina to appear and heal them but it doesn't. The hero is also wrong. Usually when the protagonist disagrees with their parents in the film they're right, and the stodgy old parents learn a lesson throughout the course of the film. This isn't the case in How to Train your Dragon 2. Hiccup's first instinct and his driving quest throughout most of the movie is to try to talk the Bad Guy out of his war. He has overcome his fear and doesn't understand how someone else can't overcome theirs. He just has to show them the way right? Well, both his mom and his dad tell him in no uncertain terms, "There is no reasoning with him. He is beyond that threshold." But he doesn't listen, and it ends up costing him. Also the relationship between Astrid and Hiccup is there, but it's not treated as a big deal, which is nice. There's no Hiccup trying to assert dominance over Astrid - it's a partnership and it's played just perfectly. They kiss! She braids his hair while he soliloquizes about who he is supposed to be! It's just very subtle as opposed to being the main point of the film.
Ohhhh boy sorry if this was a jumbled mess, but I was just so...surprised at how amazingly good this movie was. Everyone go see it today! BETTER THAN FROZEN!