Wednesday, 25 June 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 - A Parent's review (SPOILER ALERT)

For those who know the first movie, it's about a boy who was different from the others in his village, more of a pacifist than an aggressor, who went against the way of thinking and befriended, rather than slaughtered a dragon.  In the second movie, Hiccup is 5 years older and dragons are now a way of life on the far flung island of Berk. In this movie we find that there are many others out there interested in dragons, but in different ways.

There are pirates who capture dragons to take back to Drago, the villain in this movie, who is amassing a dragon army.  Stoick, Hiccup's father and chief of the village of Berk, tells him that Drago is a madman, bent on conquest.  There is also a Dragon Rider, who has been releasing captured dragons with whom Hiccup meets, and it turns out it is his own mother, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett).  She tells Hiccup that dragons are controlled by an Alpha dragon, who protects them all.

Drago comes with his own Alpha dragon, and the two Alphas fight, with Drago's coming out victorious, taking control of ALL the dragons.  Toothless comes under the control of Drago's Alpha, and turns on Hiccup, but Stoick leaps in to save Hiccup, and gets killed in the process.  Hiccup is devastated, and when Toothless regains control of his senses, Hiccup pushes him away, and Toothless leaves with Drago, who takes his army to conquer Berk.

Hiccup, having now to assume the mantle of chief, takes his friends to ride baby dragons (who are immune to the mind control of the alpha, because babies don't listen to anyone), and head to Berk.  Hiccup's friends distract the Alpha, whilst Hiccup tries to break through the mind control with love and kindness to his dear friend Toothless.  Toothless eventually overcomes the mind control and challenges the Alpha, and the distraction breaks the mind control the Alpha had on the other dragons, and all the dragons of Berk turn on the Alpha and he is defeated.

My thoughts:

As a parent who has children of both sexes, I have been trying to ensure my children grow up self confident, emotionally astute young people, and I have spent my time looking at movies they watch with a more critical eye.

People often talk about the Bechdel test, which was named after Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, which evaluated gender bias in works of fiction (eg movies).

I struggled to see if this movie would pass!  There were 3 female characters in the movie - Valka, Astrid (Hiccup's girlfriend) and Ruffnut, one of the twins who was part of Hiccup's group of friends.  Though all had speaking roles, I can't quite recall if they spoke to each other!  They MAY have - the girls during the dragon games - but because I can't really remember it, it means it fails the Bechdel test!

Also, because I went with young children, I watched it in 2D.  I hear the 3D was amazing, and I would probably have to watch it again on 3D Blu-Ray to get the experience.

Another thing that I found irritating, was Valka became a little bit wimpy after Stoick found her.  She was knowledgeable and formidable when Hiccup first met her but once Stoick arrived, she did not seem to participate much - which was unusual considering she had been aggressive previously, freeing captured dragons from dragon capturers. Perhaps it was because she was grieving for the fallen Alpha, or perhaps because she had lost ALL her dragons to Drago's Alpha that she was lost for ideas.

However, I have always found Hiccup inspiring.  Hiccup, who says that fighting and killing is not necessary to be great (Astrid is the fighter, Hiccup's strength is in compassion).  Hiccup is also on the slight, smaller side, which also shows that being physically strong is NOT what makes a man.  He's also lost a foot, which shows he has a handicap, but that it doesn't hinder him in any way.  Hiccup was aiming for peace, and he won the day through love and trust of his dragon, Toothless. At the end of the day, loyalty and love and kindness won the day, though the dragons did almost all of the fighting.

The movie overall was excellent, which was surprising for a sequel.  The emotions were real, the dialogue fresh and the characters engaging. Naturally the dragons were a great attraction and the death of his father a necessary tragedy to allow Hiccup the room to grow into the leader he was supposed to be. Astrid and Hiccup had a very mature relationship, and even Fishlegs and Snotlout competing for Ruffnut's affections were hilarious (even though she did the stereotypical thing and fell head over heals for the good looking dragon pirate Eret).  It's aimed at an older audience, I think, but still retains the charm that will interest the younger ones - I certainly enjoyed it, it was as good as the first one!  It's like Toy Story - where the characters and voices are all the same, but it's a different story yet still as engrossing as the first.

I hope that in the next film, part of Hiccup remains that awkward and slight young man, whose leadership comes from the ability to see what is right no matter what the old habits may be, in that Toy Story tradition (though this movie is Dreamworks, not Pixar)  It's a movie that I think teaches some great values to my children and I can't wait to get it on Blu-Ray so I can watch it again!

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