"How to Train Your Dragon 2" Review

Title: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Genre(s): Action
Rated: PG (For adventure action and some mild rude humor)

There is a scene later on in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” where our protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) meets someone he didn't expect to. This person is one of the most important people in his life and yet this is the first time he even sees this person. How does he react? With happiness? With disdain? Actually, his reaction is a mixture of confusion and disappointment. This is one of many scenes that show just how far DreamWorks Animation has come in making compelling films that can compete with Pixar and Disney on an emotional level. Chances are most of you reading this review know which person I am talking about because the studio has unwisely been intent on spoiling this, but on the off chance you haven't seen any of the previews I want this to remain a secret. 

I can see why the studios would want to share this as it is an emotional high point for the movie and it's probably the easiest aspect to sell. The rest of “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is likely to take family audiences by surprise because of its dark material. The sequel takes place five years after the original film and Hiccup is now twenty years old and next in line to be chief of his village. He feels he is not ready for this huge responsibility, but despite five years going by it seems like his dad (Gerard Butler) hasn't gotten any wiser in listening to his sons concerns (any comment from women that say men are stubborn pigs may feel free to insert whatever joke about this subject you want to here). His son is still young and is not prepared for the responsibilities that he is expected to execute.

Like most people his age he's at that odd stage where he's officially an adult in age but he's not an adult in maturity. His dragon training experiences in the previous film have been expanded a great deal though, which gives the film makers a good excuse to make some of the best action sequences you are going to see in a movie this year. While most action movies look like frantic YouTube videos these days, the action sequences in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” looks like that of a live action film that happens to be animated. The way the picture moves you could almost swear there was a camera involved in the making of this film at one point. This is no coincidence as I hear ten time Oscar nominated film maker Roger Deakins was a consultant on how the film would look.

I encourage those of you who felt underwhelmed by the action in “Need for Speed” to watch this movie and notice what a difference long shots make. We're also at a point in time where people are getting tired of paying extra money to see movies in 3D, but I've always maintained that good 3D can enhance a film rather than detract, and DreamWorks Animation has constantly been the studio producing the best 3D. Now they deliver another 3D experience that intensifies the movie to such a degree that if you see it in 2D I would argue that you haven't really seen it. For all the technical advances though the thing that stuck out most to me was how dark and mature this movie was. I think it's even safe to say that this movie isn't so much a family movie as it is an adult movie that mature kids can enjoy. Since the PG rating stopped being the kiss of death for animated movies it seems like every one of them that so much as has a fart joke gets the rating, but movies like this show why that rating should be saved for movies that really earn it.

Most families are in for a big surprise and I wouldn't be surprised if the disconnect between the marketing and the films content costs the film some business in the long run. I don't blame the studio for marketing this as a children's film though as historically animated action films have not done very well at the box office. Despite how it's being sold “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is easily one of the best action films of the year. It brings this franchise to new heights in terms of animation, depth, and story. It's fitting that in a franchise that has actually decided to age the main characters the animators behind the film are taking the same opportunity to grow as storytellers. Like the previous film I'm not sure how people will react to “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Goodwill from the first film will certainly make this easier to sell to audiences; we'll just have to see if they're prepared for the ride the film has in store for them.

Note: I cannot stress enough that seeing “How to Train Your Dragon 2” in 3D is crucial to the film experience. The film is being shown on the giant IMAX 3D screens in some areas. If you have access to those screens you would be doing yourself a huge favor seeing this on one of those. Even people who don't normally like 3D need to take a leap of faith. Trust me on this: The 3D version is the only way to go on this one.

Parents, this is a darker, more violent film than the last one. Recommended for ages 10 and up.