Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

I entered the cinema today to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 with seemingly impossible expectations, holding the first installment in my heart as one of the finest achievements in animation, and anything less than the same level of storytelling, emotional resonance and fun would have been a disappointment. In fact, its fair to say I expected an even better film than the first because as Hiccup and Toothless get older, I wanted the films to mature along with them, much like the progression of the Harry Potter series.

Typically when I sit down in a theater expecting this level of greatness, I inevitably exit feeling a tad disappointed because what I envisioned in my mind isn't fully realized to that level in reality. This was not the case with the absolutely sublime film I witnessed today. How to Train Your Dragon 2 not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. It is a film filled with heart and yet it is shrouded in far more darkness than the first. It is a film that understands that the characters were fully developed already, yet they should never stop growing. It is a film that does everything it needs to do to ensure that the kids in the audience will have a blast watching it, yet I was not the only adult in my general area wiping tears from their eyes towards the end. In a world filled with disappointing sequels, I can understand now why I saw so many mentions of The Empire Strikes Back from reviews I encountered recently, and before anyone acts like this comparison is sacrilegious and absurd, trust me, you are reading the words of a person who considers Empire to be the second greatest film of all time. I am not saying the films are on the same level by any means, but in terms of taking an already great first film and actually managing to make a stronger, darker, more mature work with the sequel, this film very much follows in those footsteps.

I laughed, I cried, I basked in the warmth and yet also loved the shocking dark turn DeBlois was willing to take with this film. If you have seen the film you will know what scene I am referring to, and I wanted to applaud the balls it took to go in that direction, not just what happens but HOW it happens. When I was in Target yesterday shopping, I went down an aisle filled with different types of toys and merchandise from this film, and any time you paint a popular character in a negative light it is taking a risk, a sign that creativity and artistic integrity rose above simply being concerned about the bottom line. I had to explain why it happened to my child, and I doubt I was the only parent forced into this situation, but rather than shy away from it I embraced it. I'm proud to show a film to my child that forces her to examine character motivations and the repercussions of their actions rather than just blindly making the world feel good and pure and absurdly blissful.

I have used the word animated repeatedly in this review, but I want to be clear that this work should not be relegated to the top of a genre heap and disregarded, shamefully not treated as a truly extraordinary film. I have witnessed some special cinema in 2014 thus far, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 shines brighter than the rest, my new favorite film as we approach the halfway point on the calendar. I entered the theater today with massive expectations and yet still I was blown away.

Every single day I learn of a newly announced sequel and I roll my eyes, criticize the lack of ideas in Hollywood and the fact that decisions are only made with the goal of making money and not producing influential, exciting art. That being said, bring on How to Train Your Dragon 3. As long as the same dedication to making exceptional films sticks around, I could revisit a world populated by these characters over and over and over again.


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