Animations are a bit of a strange case with me. It could be because of my naturally cynical personality, but what I find is that they more often than not make me roll my eyes with their formulaic plot lines, musical numbers and not very funny humour aka not a fan of Frozen, sorry. Before you dismiss me as a heartless person who is seriously lacking a sense of humour (partially true), let me just say that I swear by the old Pixar animations like Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Toy Story, Wall-E and I am basically a worshipper of Hayao Miyazaki, the god of animated films. What I find about the lesser, and unfortunately more common, animated films nowadays is that they get too caught up with the external details like the animations and the songs, but when it comes to story and humour they are seriously lacking. Once again, I don’t want to offend the Frozen fans but Olaf the snowman makes me feel more exhausted than anything to watch.
What sets aside the old Pixar movies and Miyazaki films (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle In The Sky) is the amount of heart in the stories, which is a very subtle element that cannot be captured by animation details. Frankly, these films have the similar elements as the other films, like the immaculate animations, slapstick humour and singing but what also sets them apart is how human the story and characters are. Like I said, it is something subtle and yet it makes all the difference in the world, be it the simple “Boo!” at the end of Monsters Inc., or the “Surprise me!” at the end of Ratatouille, or the flash of Chihiro’s rubber band at the end of Spirited Away (my personal best animated film ever). Yes, Frozen has a very touching and beautiful message about the power of true love and friendship, but these other films take it even deeper, so much so that I find myself getting the chills because of how powerfully delivered they are.
As such, I happen to be a huge fan of How To Train your Dragon 2, which is certainly surprising given how I usually don’t trust Dreamworks (Over The Hedge, urgh). It is such a simple tale about true friendship, and it does have a formulaic and predictable storyline with many typical elements of animation films, but what makes it stand out is how incredibly moving the friendship between Toothless and Hiccup is depicted without feeling contrived, corny and manipulative. This touching depiction certainly surprised me because of the various emotions it evoked while I was watching the film. Something as simple as Hiccup riding Toothless through the sky could be such a powerful image of friendship that actually surprised me. Also, what is so amazing about How To Train Your Dragon 2 is how well developed all the characters are, even if they aren’t the most original. The story is full of heart and love; the scene where Stoick and Valka were dancing and singing is something that we see very often (Disney films, anyone?), but over here you could really feel the strong bond and love between the two characters. The relationship development between Astrid and Hiccup is so natural that when they kissed in the end, I found myself actually believing it even though there weren’t exactly scenes dealing specifically with their romance. Their relationship is developed through their adventures together and their overcoming of adversities, which actually makes it all the more believable.
Of course, like all other films, the movie has the inclusion of typical characters that are there for pure comic relief, such as the man-crazy Ruffnut, but crazily enough I actually found myself laughing at these characters’ antics, such as when she goes “take me!” This was something that made me very happy, since animated humour usually don’t mix well with me and yet it worked here.
However, one other aspect of How To Train Your Dragon 2 that makes it such an interesting film is its inclusion of darker elements, including the deaths of pretty major characters. The scene where a controlled Toothless corners Hiccup and was about to kill him is something you don’t see very often in animation films, and yet the film chose to fearlessly explore the fact that good characters do die, taking the “fall and rise of heroes” theme to a deeper level than children films usually do.
All in all, I really really loved How To Train Your Dragon 2, and I can easily see this as the frontrunner for next years Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. It’s a colourful, fun story that is full of heart and has its share of sadness and heartbreaking moments as well. Highly recommended! 4.5/5.