Agh, whatever… I wouldn’t! Three hundred years, and I’m the first Viking who wouldn’t kill a dragon!
This is where you’ve been for the past twenty years? You’ve been rescuing them. Unbelievable.
Hiccup and Astrid flying on Toothless, © 2010 Dreaworks, How to Train Your Dragon.
These are a couple of gorgeous, exciting kids movies. If I were a kid, I would leave it at that. But no! I provide the above quotations to demonstrate just how much How to Train Your Dragon 2 threw out the window when its creators came up with the story for this sequel.
In How to Train Your Dragon the young son of the chief injures a dragon to prove his mettle and worth, but then upon seeing the fear in the dragon’s eye, lets him live. More than that, Hiccup helps the injured night terror, whom he names Toothless, learn to fly again. Unfortunately for both of them, this requires Hiccup to ride Toothless and for them to trust each other. This story teaches the audience that people can change and that when given a chance our enemies may become our friends. The one who manages to accomplish this is Hiccup, who, as it says, was the first Viking to save a dragon. He had to make tough choices that were morally right and he had to, in his own introverted way, stand up to his well-meaning father. Yet in the second movie this nobility and the difficult path Hiccup traversed turns out to have simply been preordained. He was not the first Viking to save a dragon, his mother was. And while Hiccup helps save/free many dragons, his mother has saved hundreds of them. This undermines the message and the depth of the first movie.
Valka (Hiccup’s mother) and her dragon friends, © 2014 Dreamworks, How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Still, this is no Matrix Reloaded. Certainly the special effects do look better and there is more action, but it did not eviscerate the logic of the first movie. 2 also stayed true to the original Dragon Training by making me want to strangle Hiccup so, so many times. All of the kids from the original are young adults now and Cate Blanchett plays Hiccup’s mother, which is nice. I like Gerard Butler when he is not in Garry Marshall Level Bad garbage. There is also an overriding theme in both of these nice movies, and it is a positive one: give peace a chance, even if you have to fight for it. Question and fight the preconceived notions that society blindly accepts. And do it riding an f’n Night Fury Dragon.
The voice actors and their characters. On the left Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou and Stoick by Gerard Butler, © 20th Century Fox, 2014.
One parting train of thought, Djimon Hounsou voices the villain, Drago. Hounsou is from Benin. I believe he was the first non-white voice actor in either of the movies. Drago looked white to me, but maybe he was not supposed to be white. Look for yourself above and decide. The name though, Drago, conjures a slav, or perhaps a Swedish actor named Dolph Lundgren. Either way, they are all Caucasians. In principle diversifying a cast is a positive thing, but does it matter that it comes through villains? The message from the first movie, and this one as well, was that humans are the enemy. And we most certainly are. Think of how many times we root for non-humans in science fiction or animals in tearjerkers. But returning to diversification through villains with darker skin, Gerard Butler has gone down this path before with the criticism of 300. In 300, and its sequel, the only dark skinned people were Persians and other non-Greeks. Personally, I found the portrayal of Xerxes so positive and powerful that I thought it better to have some color than no movie at all. Because if the Greeks had no Butlers, Wenhams, Wests and Fassbenders, there would be no 300. In 300: Rise of an Empire, Xerxes loses much of his luster, which bothered me. On the other hand, Eva Green shows how powerful a woman can be as a better warrior and tactician than Xerxes. So there is that; on the other-other hand Xerxes slaps Green’s Artemisia in the face. And she is white. Well, there it is. This is just some food for thought regarding diversity in modern American cinema and the compromises made in the quest for money and progress, but mostly money.
How to Train Your Dragon: ***½
How to Train Your Dragon 2: ***