How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a surprisingly straightfoward plot, but it was pretty enjoyable.

Premise: Dragons, formerly a menace to the people of Berk, are now a cherished part of Berk’s peace-loving culture. Menace lurks on the horizon, however. Dragon trappers are hunting dragons to sell to a warlord who is building a dragon army, and they’re not about to let a bunch of dragon riders get in their way, attacks from a mysterious giant ice-spitting dragon notwithstanding. Can Hiccup accept his role as future chief and protect his people… and the dragons? He and Toothless are going to have to fight that warlord, obviously. With help from an almost totally unexpected source…

Frankly, even if the plot had been a lot worse, the dragon joyrides would have made it totally acceptable. You know, kind of like The Rescuers Down Under. I’m a sucker for friendships with flying animals. (Free Willy, on the other hand, you can keep.)

Looking forward (waaaay forward, to 2018) to the third and final movie in the series. Considering reading the books, but I understand there are a lot of them and they’re only loosely related to the films. Not interested in the TV show.

More about this movie, and only this movie, since apart from the tame-the-injured-beast montage I don’t remember much about its 2010 predecessor, below. There are SPOILERS, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Opening image, set-up, theme stated:
We see the peaceful island of Berk, where people now ride dragons for fun. Because dragons are loyal and awesome, not terrible. And if the people of Berk can be convinced of it, anyone can.

Hiccup, Toothless, and Astrid stumble across dragon trappers who have been attacked by some other dragon riders and an ice-spitting dragon. They’re collecting dragons for some evil dude.

Debate/Break into Two:
Hiccup manages to tell his father about the problem. His father’s reaction is to panic and lock down Berk to try to hide from the evil dude. Hiccup refuses to go along with this plan and escapes Berk with Astrid to go looking for the evil dude. To negotiate with him. (Like that’s going to work.) They purposely get themselves captured by the trappers, who they hope will take them to the evil dude. Hiccup’s father and friends think they’ve been captured for real and try to rescue them. Hiccup’s father explains knows the evil dude because he saw the evil dude ruthlessly kill a bunch of chiefs long long ago. Hiccup stubbornly flies off with Toothless on his own, because he believes reason is still worth a try.

B Story / The Promise of the Premise / Midpoint:
Hiccup and Toothless, who almost drowns, get captured by a masked dragon rider. It turns out to be a woman. Actually, she’s Hiccup’s mother. Flashback: Even in the days when the people of Berk fought dragons, she saw them as good. They took her away when she refused to kill one who her husband thought was threatening Hiccup, who bears a scar from the incident. Anyway, Hiccup’s mom has established a dragon sanctuary and is rescuing dragons from the trappers. (It is kinda like Rescuers Down Under, isn’t it?) The sanctuary itself was made by a huge alpha who spits ice. Hiccup’s father arrives and learns that his wife is alive. Minds can be changed, Hiccup’s mother learns. Everyone is happy.

Bad Guys Close In:
Hiccup’s friends have kidnapped the trapper, who takes them to the evil guy, who captures them. And finds and attacks the dragon sanctuary.

All is lost:
In the fight, the evil guy manages to beat the ice-spitting alpha with his own, which gives him control over all the dragons, including the dragons from the sanctuary and from Berk. He makes Toothless kill Hiccup’s father.

Dark Night of the Soul:
Clearly reason is of no use. How can the people of Berk fight back without dragons? Without their chief even? It’s all Hiccup’s fault, isn’t it…

Break Into Three:
Hiccup and friends ride the uncontrollable baby dragons from the sanctuary to attack the evil dude, who is riding Toothless and attacking Berk.

Hiccup forgives Toothless and regains control of him. Then the evil dude’s alpha spits ice at them and it looks like they’ve both died. Toothless uses new powers to explode them out, though. He gains control over the dragons, and everyone starts shooting at the evil dude’s alpha, who runs away, possibly drowning evil dude. Or not. Maybe this evil dude comes back next time.

Final Image:
Berk is peaceful again. Toothless is the new Alpha and Hiccup is the new chief. The head trapper now likes dragons because one saved him in the fight, so some people’s minds can in fact be changed.

Other thoughts about Train Your Dragon 2

In this movie, the black dragon Toothless was part cat and part dog, part bat and part plane… and also part glowing laser gaming mouse. Pretty brilliant character design.

Hiccup himself is geeky wish-fulfillment embodied. Despite being a thinky, skinny loner, he has the best dragon of them all, a killer sword, a girl, friends, his parents’ respect and affection, and the leadership of his village. (Wait, isn’t the middle of a trilogy supposed to be bleak? Whatever. This works too.)

I like the protagonist/narrator and his lines. I like the goofy crush one of the dragonriders has on the head trapper. I like the themes of using one’s strengths (whatever they are) rather than focusing on weaknesses, attempting difficult things, and remaining loyal to one’s friends and family.

I was expecting the mother to feel betrayed when the bad guys showed up at the sanctuary… she could easily have come to the conclusion that her husband and son had led them there on purpose, thus proving, as she had feared, that people hate dragons and never change their minds. That didn’t happen. I guess that would have made her an antagonist, at least temporarily, whereas really she’s just an ally.

I was fully expecting Toothless to mind-control the alpha at the finale. That would have proven the strength of his loyalty. Instead, Toothless and Hiccup get iced, and Toothless develops completely new abilities (deus ex-animalia), controls all the other dragons, and deploys them in a shootout. The loyalty theme is still there, but the realization is more actiony than psychological. Oh well.

The dragon’s fire wasn’t fire this time, it was like light bullets. Or in one case, creepy Halloween pumpkin mouth furnaces. I remember from the first movie that one of the major advances in animation was to get the CGI fire to behave in this red-orange, liquidy flowing way. Apparently they just junked all those algorithms.

The hair (but interestingly not the ice) was really detailed in this movie… reminded me a bit of Brave from 2012. Brave also had a “magico-historical northern-European” vibe to it and some really detailed hair. But Dragon 2 had a much better plot and more specific themes.

The Viking chief sounds Scottish, which creates a bit of cognitive dissonance, but it seems unnecessary to nit-pick about accuracy when the Vikings are riding dragons, okay, people? I mean, don’t miss the point of the whole thing. Which is that dragons are awesome.