Hello again! I hope you had as awesome a week as I did. I spent a lot of time revising my novel for the contest, and I'm feeling pretty good. I had a plot point that required my protagonist to act in a way that was very much not in his character, but I figured out a way that he could act like himself without ruining the plot point that needed to happen. I am worried that I'm revising this novel to death, as it has changed a lot since I last worked on it. But I have it with readers, and I'll see what they think. Gotta love writing.
So, as the title of this post implies, I saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 this past weekend. Twice. The first time in 3D, the second in regular 2D. And I loved it. Here is my review.
No story is perfect, and neither is every movie. I felt that the ending of HTTYD2 lacked the resonance the first movie's final scene had. But it should tell you something that this is the worst criticism I can level against the film.
Before I go on, I should list out what I want in a story, be it on paper or on screen: I want a story about a person. Epic battles, large-scale destruction, witty banter, etc. are all well and good and I like them all in their place (large-scale destruction to a lesser amount), but what I always want is a story about a character's personal growth and his/her actions and responses to things around him/her. I want to meet and sympathize with a character to the point that I feel what they feel and I want them to succeed, regardless of the circumstances. I once read a story by one of my students about a child who wanted to catch a fallen, red leaf. That's all. Small circumstance, but I have never wanted a kid to catch a leaf so badly because of the way the writer showed me why it mattered to that one child.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 did this very well. Yes, they battles were larger and more intense than those in the first movie, and the animation was beautiful. But what struck me was how good the writers were at making me care about Hiccup and the things he goes through. This happened in the first movie, too, and seems to me to be the first thing that gets lost in a movie sequel. Not here. This movie does a great job of having large stakes for the world of the film, but also for the hero. By the end, I was emotionally absorbed because what mattered to Hiccup mattered to me.
I'm deliberately avoiding spoilers in this review. But I will say that if you are the kind of person who cries at movies, you may cry during this one. I didn't, but I'm not the kind of person who cries at movies. One thing I've learned about writing is that you think of the worst possible thing that could happen to your hero, and then you make it worse. How to Train Your Dragon 2 did it. Bad got worse. But it wasn't gratuitous; that moment (that I will not discuss) pushed the characters to behave in ways that moved the story along.
One of the things I love about this franchise is how active the characters are. They don't sit around and wait for things to happen. They go out and do things, even though those things sometimes are mistakes. I love that. I also love that characters behave in character, and this continues on to the second movie. The characters have changed, but not so drastically that they've stopped being the characters we loved in the first movie.
HTTYD2 avoided the trap many sequels fall into: the plot and jokes and hallmarks of the second film are exactly the same as those of the first. This time, the sequel is its own movie. It builds on the first, but the plot is its own and the characters grow in new ways. It adds to the story, not rehashes what we have already. And all new surprises are, of course, foreshadowed. No shocks that don't feel right, like they belong to the natural flow of the story.
Last note, and then I'm done: HTTYD2 expands Toothless as a character. I love this. Not just because I love Toothless (and who wouldn't? Look at him!)
but because in the sequel you see a lot more of Toothless's personality. He's not just an animal; he's a character. Dreamworks does such an amazing job with the dragon, maintaining and animal feel while making him as intelligent as Hiccup and an equal partner in fighting to save Berk.
Overall, I give this movie an A. Visually lovely, music as good as ever, and an excellent move forward in a larger story. Plot and characters handled so well, making me the viewer emotionally engaged. That last bit is the sign of a good movie to me. If you don't care about the characters enough to root for them, then what does it matter what else happens?
I'm going to buy the DVD when it comes out. You can count on that. But until then, I'm just going to have to reread the books and hope the last one comes out soon.