How to Train Your Dragon ranks among my top animated films so you could say the sequel had big shoes to fill (if a little late...university exams have terrible timing). For the most part, I thought How To Train Your Dragon 2 did a great job - gorgeous, sweeping visuals, solid writing, great character design and beats. A little predictable, a little lacking in nuance in certain places but a thoroughly enjoyable movie across all age groups - and you may be surprised at who cries during the emotional moments.
Major spoilers under the cut
As a visual animated movie, the movie does particularly well in terms of movement - the camera resembles an exhilarating roller coaster (take note, shaky cam trend!) that worked like gangbusters with the soundtrack, which is all sweeping orchestrals and dramatic crescendos.
The overall themes of the story were consistent and came across clearly on multiple levels - stepping up as an unlikely hero to a role that he is ill-prepared for, the loss of security/innocence. It was great that the writing was tight, planting Chekov's Guns liberally with Toothless' scales, Stormfly's fetching, the baby dragons (whose unpredictability was conveniently absent at critical moments, it must be said). I thought it was really interesting that they deconstructed Hiccup's confidence in his 'peacemaker' abilities - though I'm hoping they don't just settle on the 'some people are psychos' takeaway. I loved Valka - I loved that she was a subverted 'missing mum' trope, I love that she's Cate Blanchett, I love that she's confident and badass and I can't wait to see more of her.
It was a great move - from a character-development perspective - for Toothless to kill Stoick, which simultaneously shook the Hiccup/Toothless relationship. It really upped the stakes and the sense of danger for the climax. I will attest that everyone sniffling in the theatre during the boat send-off scene was a grown-up. No shame.
The last arc definitely felt a little bit rushed (and aspects like Valka's decades of experience with dragons were not given as much spotlight as I would have liked). There was, unfortunately, only a feeble attempt at backstory for Drago and most of the nuance was lost in favour of painting a clear, black-and-white morality (also...the one person of colour happens to be evil...hmmm...)
It does take a good movie to make adults feel like it was a pity, instead of an obvious given, that a kid's movie was less nuanced than might have been possible. But, when in doubt, write your own!
(Did anyone else do a double take when they said Hiccup was twenty? That's...my age...)
And...well, Toothless. Very few animated animals can reduce me to an incoherent, squee-ing pile of mush like he does.
Not the best idea to paint all those textures (fabric! metal! scales!) with watercolour, given I'm still figuring out this medium, and Toothless' ears came out a bit too long... but it's a start, no? This shall officially be known as the Watercolour Winter Break.