Aaah, 2010. A simpler time. A time when names like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga dominated the music charts. A time when none of us could stop talking about how great it was to be living in the International Year of Biodiversity. A year when a lot of people said, “You know a movie that was better than I thought it was going to be? How to Train Your Dragon”. A year or two later, I finally caved in and saw it. And you know what? They were right, How to Train Your Dragon was better than I thought it would be. Yet, not good enough for me to give two shits when its sequel was released earlier this year. Until, I was sitting on a plane with 12 hours of nothing to do ahead of me, and How to train Your Dragon 2 available on the in-flight entertainment.
With the perfect amount of recap for a casual viewer like me, while never getting too bogged down in it, some opening narration from main character Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) gets us up to speed with where the last movie ended and what has happened since. His Viking clan have embraced dragons and made riding them a big part of their everyday lives. Where they used to build weapons for catching and killing them, they now practice things like dragon dentistry. While clan leader Stoic (Gerard Butler) has decided to step down and let his son take over, his reluctant son, Hiccup, is more concerned with riding his dragon, Toothless, to the ends of the Earth, mapping out the world around them.
On one of these exploration missions, Hiccup and his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera) are captured by Eret (Kit Harington). Under orders of the mysterious Drago (Djimon Hounsou), Eret and his men are capturing every dragon they come across. When Hiccup and Astrid escape to tell Stoic of their misadventure, Stoic immediately freaks out and locks down their entire island, ready for an attack. It turns out he’s had his own run in with Drago decades earlier and expects the worst.
Thinking there’s always a peaceful solution to be found, Hiccup escapes is father’s fortifications and heads off to reason with Drago. Instead, he meets a mysterious dragon rider that turns out to be someone very important from his own past. Then it’s back to the blueprint of the original movie as Hiccup finds new reserves of courage, his father learns new respect for his son, and we all learn a few fun facts about dragons.
A lot of this plot is very cookie cutter and predictable, but like the best movies from rival animation studio Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon 2 knows how to layer on the perfect amount of sweet sentimentality to make you care about these zeroes and ones, while never layering it on too thick to make it sickening.
Pixar classics like the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles still hold the record for setting the high watermark for these CG kids’ movies, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 gets within a pretty impressive striking distance. And it does it with a certain light heartedness that even the best Pixar movies sometimes lose underneath their earnestness.