It has been a few years in the making, but a hotly anticipated sequel to a sleeper hit has finally arrived…and no it isn't '22 Jump Street' (that review will come later) No, I'm referring to 'How To Train Your Dragon 2'- ok, don't let the lack of title creativity throw you. The sweet and moving original set a pretty high bar to reach, does the second one clear that bar? Yes, but in its own way, I would say what was unique about this sequel was that it didn't need to repeat some of the story lines of the first, this was its own story that could stand on its own, no small feat for most sequels.
When we last left Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, dragons and Vikings were living in harmony and their bond was forged deeper as both were broken creatures. Cut to several years later, and Hiccup still has the wanderlust, and isn't obeying any rules. Even if the rules were to play a sheep catching game. Hiccup is off charting unknown lands, looking for new dragons, anything to stay away from the responsibly his father (Gerard Butler) has bestowed on him - to be the village chief. Hiccup didn't ask nor wants this honor, clearly not grasping the idea of birth right. To he with great parental lineage comes great responsibility; regardless of personal desire, ability, or inclination.
Into this harmonious time at Berk comes word from Dragon catchers that there is a new menace - a dragon who destroys cities by breathing ice, controlled by the diabolical Drago (Djimon Hounsou). Confident in his skills of persuasion since convincing the village that dragons aren't evil, Hiccup wants to talk with Drago and use diplomacy. His war mongering Father believes Drago can't be reasoned with, and that the only answer is war. A very heavy theme for a PG movie, and one that is more complicated than what unfolds in a 90 min animated movie. In this current climate, have things become over politicized? Am I reading too much into this movie?
Spoiler alert - on the path to finding Drago (evil people are notoriously difficult to find, breaking down the lines of communication and what not) Hiccup finds a hippie dragon activist that happens to be….his mom (Cate Blanchette). As difficult as bad guys are at being tracked, apparently good guys have a GPS chip and in no time Stoick, Astrid, and all his friends from Berk find Valka's secret hide out. For a while there is domestic bliss, but this movie isn't about the family dysfunction when the mom who abandons them returns. For me this movie focuses more on war and peace. War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. The first movie dealt with the struggle to find acceptance, and to find common ground amongst our differences. This movie shows the dark side of what happens when the common ground is lost.
The movie then goes dark pretty quickly, as Drago takes control of all the dragons- including the friendly ones from Berk. Drago proves he can get dragons to do anything, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT by getting Toothless to take aim at Hiccup. Stoick launches in front of the blast and is killed. Hiccup's faith in the goodness of creatures is momentarily shaken, but his father didn't die in vain. Hiccup will prove to Drago that 1: He is the better Dragon whisperer because he sees the good in them 2: With love and caring, you can overcome inner demons.
The movie asks the age old question of nature versus nurture - I'm sure Valka would disagree, but it is generally accepted that dragons breathe fire and kill people -it seems hard wired. To make these beasts fly on your command is suppressing this primal urge, even if the means of that suppression is love and caring. We aren't privy to what Drago told Toothless to make him want to turn on Hiccup, but sadly it probably wasn't anything more malicious than simply telling Toothless to give in to that primal urge- to breathe fire and kill as countless generations of dragons had done before him. The confused and bewildered look on Toothless's face after Stoick's death showed he didn't know what had occurred- a moment of temporary insanity? Or was it the ultimate clarity? Either way, as this is a kids movie- good does triumph, but there was a high price to pay for this. Many dragons and Vikings died making the peace bitter sweet. In civilized societies, war is to be avoided. But is keeping the peace that civilized? At what cost is the peace kept? This movie had me thinking, and concerned that the PG rating doesn't quite prepare the audience for what's in store. Even if they don't get the war theme like I did, little kids in the audience clearly understood Stoick was dead. At the end of the movie those still alive flew off into the sunset, until the next time our peaceful hero has to take up arms. Peace is but the prelude to war it would seem.