A misfit soars on a dragon’s back: Learning from outsiders in How to Train Your Dragon 2

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How To Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation
Directed by Dean DeBlois
102 minutes

Rated PG-13. Not suitable for young children.

Like its first-rate 2010 predecessor, the animated fantasy adventure How to Train Your Dragon 2 will bring tears of joy to the faces of those moved by the sight of a boy atop a jet-black dragon soaring into the clouds and swooping down toward the glistening sea.

Based on the books by Cressida Cowell, the films put their own unique twist on the familiar trope of a boy and his faithful dog, reimagining it as the story of a boy and his inseparable dragon. Each of the pair is one of a kind. “Toothless,” as the boy dubs the dragon, is a “Night Fury”—the only one of its kind in a world filled with dragons of every quixotic shape and size. For his part, the teenage “Hiccup” is a dreamer who’s good at devising gadgets—like the prosthetic tail fin that permits the injured Toothless to fly. Hiccup may be the chief’s son, but he is a perennial outsider who doesn’t fit the mould in the blustering, brawling Viking society. His bond with Toothless initially puts him beyond the pale, as Vikings and dragons are implacable foes, until Hiccup shows them a better way in the first film.

Learning truths from those whom we are so quick to dismiss as eccentrics or misfits is at the heart of the series, as it is at the heart of the Christian faith. Being outside the mainstream can give one distance and objectivity, often equipping the outsider with insights and a self-critical perceptiveness that eludes others. And Hiccup’s predilection for peacemaking rises to even greater heights in the second film. Canadian actor Jay Baruchel, who lends his distinctively nasal voice to Hiccup’s humourously ironic observations and quips, says that his character is downright “Canadian,” according to the popular stereotype of what it is to be Canadian: “He’s a peacemaker. He wants reconciliation…He wants cooler heads to prevail, and he knows we’re better off if we can all find a way to get along.”

When an aggressive threat arises—one that imperils Vikings and dragons alike—Hiccup is adamant that reason and reconciliation are preferable to violent conflict. He bravely tries to reconcile new enemies in the spirit of live and let live. The refreshing theme of finding heroism in unexpected places is continued, with a protagonist who does not fit the expectations of his normally “fight first, ask questions later” kin.

Composer John Powell, whose beautiful, emotionally moving score for the first film deservedly earned him an Academy Award nomination, is back. His sweepingly emotive main score and Celtic melodies from the first picture return here, and they give this film remarkable emotional heft. The scenes of flight, to that glorious music, are some kind of wonderful, conjuring beauty, freedom and exhilaration in ways that entrance and move the viewer. The first film was an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Film, and this one deserves the same recognition.

 

 

John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist.

 

Copyright © 2014 by John Arkelian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist.

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