How to Train Your Dragon 2

explore_feat_mod2bI’ll admit it. I’m a big How to Train Your Dragon fan. Love, love, LOVE the first movie, and can’t seem to get sick of it even though I’ve watched it approximately 2 bazillion times. It’s got a timeless quality to it, unlike many other movies.

I was so excited for the sequel, and probably made many people on my Facebook page sick with my constant fangirling over it. My husband and I saw it in the theaters on the release date, and I really enjoyed it.

Like many people, I occasionally check out the reviews for movies I’m interested in. HTTYD 2 has gotten primarily favorable reviews, and currently ranks at 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As of today, 151 reviews have been collected, with only 12 being “rotten.”

All fine and dandy, not everyone likes every movie. Some movies are just not some people’s cup of tea. I get that, but some reviews just really pushed my buttons, mostly because of what they claimed was “wrong” with the sequel.

Like this review, where the reviewer completely botched initial Hiccup’s motivation, and central theme of the films.

Or this one, where the reviewer seemed to be annoyed that the dragons were not cartoony enough.

I’m not even going to address the second reviewer’s complaints. I cannot imagine being disappointed in a movie because the creatures in it move “too realistically.”

As for the first, let me address the points that really stuck out to me. As part of his review of the first movie, the first reviewer describes Hiccup and Toothless’ first meeting as this:

“One day Hiccup discovers a flying dragon in the bottom of a ravine that is trying desperately to fly away but keeps failing because part of his tail has been chopped off, courtesy of a Viking no doubt. Seeing the creature as vulnerable, in a way mirroring his own Milquetoast tendencies, he decides to take pity on it and treat it decently.”

Not only is this overly simplistic, it’s pretty inaccurate.

The dragon Hiccup discovers is a Night Fury, a dragon that Hiccup himself trapped the night before using an invention designed to bring the creature down as it flew past. Toothless’ tail was injured as a result of this entrapment. When he discovered the hog-tied dragon, Hiccup was fully prepared to kill it to prove himself to his father. Instead, he recognized his own fear in Toothless’ terrified eyes, and finds himself unable to commit to the kill. The boy releases the dragon, realizing he’s not the bloodthirsty dragon killer he had previously envisioned (and hoped) himself to be.

It’s Hiccup’s curiosity that creates the relationship between the two. Toothless retreated to a cove after Hiccup released him, and became trapped because he was unable to fly due to the injury unwittingly inflicted by Hiccup. The boy didn’t “take pity” on the dragon and decide to be a good guy and treat it well, he felt responsible for the dragon’s injury and tried to help. And there was also no small amount of intrigue about this dragon that no one had ever seen before.

It was this initial curiosity that lead to the realization that dragons were not the monsters Vikings had always thought. And thus, Hiccup’s determination to try and show his tribe that the animals are not to be feared and killed. But this did not come until close to the end of the first film. Up until his battle with the Monstrous Nightmare, Hiccup was secretly discovering the dragons’ quirks. But only out of curiosity, not some ultimate goal of peacemaker. When he faced the Nightmare—expected by his tribe to kill it as a final test in dragon training–he instead decided to use the opportunity to try and show the others the truth about these creatures.

About the sequel, the same reviewer says:

“Since the original was entirely about the struggle conducted by Hiccup to convince his fellow Vikings that dragons were harmless, a sequel that dispensed with this dramatic tension had little to work with.”

Uh, no, that’s not what the original movie was “entirely” about. At its core, HTTYD was about the struggles of a young boy to discover who he was and where he fit in with the rest of his tribe. He was smaller, weaker, and just plain different than the rest. He tried his darnedest to do what everyone else did, but it never came naturally to him, and he was unsuccessful in demonstrating even the simplest of Viking abilities and skills.

Yes, there was another theme—that dragons were not what the Vikings had always thought they were. But that wasn’t the driving motion of the film. Hiccup did not start out with the goal of changing everyone’s mind. He struggled so hard to be what his father expected, what his tribe expected, yet constantly fell short. It was this struggle that was the underlying focus of the original film, and this carries over into the sequel.

Five years later, dragons have moved into Berk, and the war between Viking and dragon is over. But the struggle within Hiccup is not. Now he’s more accepted, but his father expects him to take over as Chief. Hiccup spends much of his time avoiding this discussion, as he’s still unsure of his place in the tribe. He’s still different, and feels he can never be the Chief his father is. He questions his abilities, his future. He’s still not quite sure of who he is and where he fits into this world. The events of the second film help form Hiccup into the man he will become.

The HTTYD movies are ultimately about Hiccup’s growth from awkward, unsure kid into a confident, strong man. The first movie gave him the first kick in the right direction, showing Hiccup that what made him different was not necessarily bad, and actually helped save his tribe in the end. The second takes this personal journey a step further, as he transitions from teen to man. We are privy to the defining moments and decisions that promote character growth and maturity.

The fact that this reviewer seemed to think that the “dragons are misunderstood” theme was the sole point of the movies is head-scratching and makes me wonder if he was actually paying attention to the films, or only half-watched as he busied himself with something else.

Look, I get it. Not everyone is going to love every movie. I really enjoyed HTTYD 2, but did I think it was perfect? No, there were things I would have liked to have seen. The other kids were little more than background characters, occasionally brought to the forefront to inject a “Fishlegs and Snotlout fighting over Ruffnut” gag. I would have liked to see more interaction between them all.

Drago’s backstory was a bit thin and cliché. And he has the typical “villain” look—you instantly knew he was the bad guy just by looking at his many scars, his stance, his imposing demeanor. I think it would have been much more interesting had Hiccup’s mother been the “villain,” in the same type of vein as Elsa’s role in Frozen. Valka had a very focused viewpoint when it came to dragon/man interactions, and I could very easily see her become almost militant in her quest to “save” all dragons from mankind’s cruelty. And since she’s been out of circulation for nearly 20 years, she also has an isolationist/recluse vibe going on. It would have added to Hiccup’s internal struggle to have found his mother, only to discover he must “fight” her to keep the peace.

As for the shocking event that kills a main character (and I will refrain from naming names to avoid spoilers), many fans have objected to this as just a ploy at emotional manipulation. I firmly disagree. This event NEEDED to happen to further Hiccup’s journey of change and self-discovery. Because, as I said previously, that’s what the HTTYD franchise is about—Hiccup’s journey from boy to man, and finding his place in the world. Without this pivotal event, Hiccup would not be forced to step up and take action and do what he must to keep his village and those he loves safe.

Ultimately, despite my disappointments with a few elements, I enjoyed HTTYD 2. When it comes to DVD it will find a place on my bookshelf alongside the original and the 2 seasons of the tv show already sitting there.

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