Dreamworks’ colourful high-flying animated movie How to Train Your Dragon (2010), from directors Peter Hastings and Chris Sanders, laid the groundwork for a special kind of family venture: a metaphor for a young man learning to understand and control his sexual impulses. Suggestive elements ranged from broad strokes (such as its innuendo-laden title) to small touches.
Before the film began, audiences watched Dreamworks’ intro bumper depicting a young man in front of a moon holding a fishing rod between his legs. When squeaky-voiced protagonist and narrator Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) introduces supporting characters, his pronunciation quivers when love interest Astrid enters the frame; behind her a missile hits the ground and a climactic explosion consumes the screen.
When a village elder stalls his efforts to become a dragon slayer, Hiccup responds with a warning: “You, sir are playing a dangerous game, keeping all of this raw Vikingness contained” . When he finds a pet dragon, Toothless, Hiccup is clumsy at first — he fumbles and makes embarrassing mistakes — but eventually becomes master of his domain.
Unsurprisingly, Hastings and Sanders, adapting and Americanising a children’s book by British author Cressida Cowell, wimp out on a juicy allegorical undertone and trod a conventional path into familiar grounds: a fluffy but fun and, to a degree, thoughtful McHappy story about coming of age and finding one’s place.
How to Train Your Dragon 2, (directed by Dean DeBlois who wrote 1998’s Mulan), ignores the fact that the eponymous creature is very much trained. In fact it basks in Toothless’ abilities as a kind of mythical performing seal, diving and swooshing in the air on command. Now a pro on the circuit, Hiccup shows off his dragon’s ability to a team of hunters who work for an evil collector assembling a slave-dragon army. Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is a baddie of the most archetypal kind — long devilish hair, a scar-ridden face, menacing eyebrows and psychopathic tendencies.
Based five years after the original, where dragons and humans peacefully co-exist in Hiccup’s home town, the hero sets out to convince others that this tolerant and progressive community have got it right. The film is less about fitting in and more about challenging the status quo and toppling preconceptions.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 plays broad enough for audiences to apply their own readings (perhaps this is a commentary on racism or conservatism), but most will be more than happy to admire the scenery and leave their brains at the door. It’s pretty and colourful, with some lovely point of view shots and a particularly impressive final battle scene. Despite an abundance of well-worn storytelling tropes, DeBlois maintains an air of freshness.
Jay Baruchel’s distinctive rattletrap voice again makes an odd fit for such a clean-cut looking character, but the character is lovingly developed. Hiccup is not just the strongest personality in the film but the only strong one; supporting roles (including his hard yakka father Stoick the Vast, voiced by Gerard Butler) fail to make much of an impact.
Toothless is another wimp-out by the filmmakers. Instead of scaling back his photogenic appearance and rendering the creature in the mould of a Beauty and the Beast figure, embracing the key message that his true nature has nothing to do with how he looks, he is presented as a Toys “R” Us plaything. Exceptionally cute, even by the genre’s generous standards.