Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 never learns to tell a story

Dreamworks follows up a blockbuster with a safe, tepid cash-in.

Posted by Anthony Salveggi on Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM


When the filmmakers at Dreamworks’ animation division gear up for the inevitable next How to Train Your Dragon installment (and it’s likely already underway), I have a suggestion.

Try telling a story.

I know you want your films to be blockbusters, and that achievement presumes a lot of "gee whiz" moments. But that doesn’t mean your movies have to play like one typical adventure/heart-rending/comedy sequence after another, on which the fate of everything depends.

You can see where this is going, so I'll cut to the compliments: How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks great. The flying sequences are a blast. Those cute bits of comedy going on between dragons in the background of a few scenes — nice touch. But even in its humor, it's familiar and easy.

The rest is all too much — too much “woo hoo!” Too much “c’mon buddy!” Too much everything. And that means not enough of the kind of storytelling that takes its time, that feels fresh, and that makes sense.

And sense is lacking in How to Train Your Dragon 2, which asks us to believe that a mother would abandon her family — including her infant son — because she thought she was a bad mom by being a pacifist about dragons. Huh? Of all the ways to explain someone's 20-year absence. HTTYD 2 is also disingenuous. It preaches a message of peace and understanding before giving in to brute force, so that the nominal bad guy gets his comeuppance by the hero dragon.

Speaking of that dragon: Dean DeBlois, the director of this and its predecessor, did so much better years ago with the charming Lilo and Stitch. With Toothless, who is clearly patterned on Stitch, he has a character that can provide warmth and humor. But the warmth and humor on display in HTTYD 2 feel like just another couple of safe, studio-approved ingredients on the way to making bank.

Comments (3)

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Seems like you walked into this film with a bad attitude. Your opinion is yours but is the only negative review I've seen, so I doubt anything you have to say will matter to most people. It's a beautiful touching film that plays to all ages. Sorry you missed it.

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Posted by Nancy Herman on 06/15/2014 at 2:51 PM

I was briefly of the mind to let this comment go unremarked upon – you can’t please everyone after all, and why would you want to – but a few incorrect assumptions have be compelled to set the record straight and explain my review.

As to the assertion that I went into the movie with a bad attitude: without qualification, wrong. I happen to be very fond of the first film, and had high hopes for this one, particularly as I had been aware of the positive critical buzz it had already generated before the screening I attended. To that screening, as I do with all children’s films, I took along my son, who also loved the first movie (and this one, too). If anything, I was predisposed to give HTTDY 2 a glowing review, not a negative one.

And on the subject of negativity, you’ll notice by re-reading my rather brief review that I praise the film for looking great, and for at times being very funny. It was in the execution and synthesis of other elements that I found it lacking. I point them out in my review, so no need to reiterate here except to say that while it’s clear that HTTDY 2 attempts to be a touching, meaningful film that dramatizes mortality, loyalty, and becoming one’s own man (or woman), it didn’t strike me as successful in those attempts. I thought the relationship between Hiccup and Valka could have been mined for much deeper emotions. The flying sequences, while admirably rendered, didn’t do much for me beyond my appreciation for their creation. And the main villain, Drago, was so one-dimensional as to be a simplistic challenge to Hiccup’s inclination toward empathy and diplomacy. Even in his role as foil, he wasn’t very interesting.

Regarding mine being the only negative review you read, the spirit of your point is taken. HTTDY 2 has received glowing reviews, all praising its look (as I do) as well as its bent toward darkness, which I take to mean the side of human nature and experience we frequently see glossed over in movies. But simply acknowledging death, loss, abandonment, regret and a host of other “dark” emotions doesn’t earn from me automatic admiration. It’s what the filmmaker does with those experiences that matter. And as a handful of critics have pointed out (check out Metacritic to see the variety of opinion), the film came across as disjointed and lackluster, especially in its last act. It wants to be big, sweeping and important. If that’s how you experienced it, who can argue? But that’s not my experience or assessment, and why would you want me (or any critic) to write a review that expressed other than what they believed to be true? I sometimes disagree with my fellow critics on this site, and never do I feel the desire to criticize them for not assessing a movie as I would have.

Perhaps this will help you re-evaluate your assertion that I “missed this movie.” I didn’t; I saw it differently from you, and I stand by my assessment.

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Posted by Sal on 06/18/2014 at 12:34 AM

you suck at movie reviews..

Posted by anon on 09/02/2014 at 6:17 PM
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