The long-awaited sequel to everyone’s favorite movie about an adorable dragon and the boy he loves finally came out this past weekend. All in all I found it an enjoyable watch, although I don’t think it can compete with its predecessor on plot strength.
Spoilers for all of the things after the jump.
The basic plot of the movie runs something like this: Hiccup’s dad Stoick wants him to become chief, but Hiccup is more concerned with his own mission: mapping the surrounding lands on long trips with Toothless. On one of these trips, he and Astrid run into a band of trappers who are collecting dragons for a menacing villain figure uncreatively named Drago, who’s putting together an army of dragons. When Hiccup reports back to Stoick about this, Stoick is all ready for war, having faced an attack by Drago before.
Hiccup, however, believes he can reason Drago down; after all, he did it once before with all of Berk. He gets into trouble on the way, though, and ends up being rescued by a mysterious dragon master who turns out to be his long lost mom, Valka, whom he always believed to be dead. She teaches him even more about how dragons work in a big ol’ exposition dump, and soon enough Stoick tracks them down and the whole happy family is reunited. The peace cannot last, however, because Drago has also discovered the dragon nest where Valka lives. Hiccup tries to reason with him as he had planned to do, but Drago is too in love with his berserker lifestyle and considers Hiccup a weakling.
Drago controls the dragons in his army with a subjugated bewilderbeast, a creature the dragons consider their Alpha. Drago not only seizes control of all the dragons in the nest including Toothless (save the babies, who don’t listen to no grown up dragon, Alpha or not) but also uses the controlled Toothless to kill Stoick. After a tragic funeral, Hiccup realizes he is ready to lead his people, and they mount up on the baby dragons to head back to Berk, where Drago has headed to wreak more damage. Using The Power of Friendship, Hiccup is able to break through Toothless’s Alpha brainwashing and strike back against Drago, eventually defeating him and his Alpha. The town is saved, and Toothless, having taken down an Alpha, becomes the new Alpha as Hiccup takes his place as chief.
So what did I think of the movie? Well, as I mentioned, the plot was a little busy, especially compared to the relatively simple storyline of the first movie. A lot of stuff was happening all the time, and I think the script probably could have used a few more edits before it moved into animation. However, it did make up for that somewhat by doing some pretty awesome stuff with the characters.
Valka is a super cool woman. She has awesome and frightening androgynous war armor, she is an amazingly talented dragon rider, and she’s more than a little bit feral. Although she’s not completely asocial and does slip back into her mothering role with ease, it’s cool to see a female character who’s unapologetically weird and is not just accepted but applauded for it.
Ruffnut is was another pleasant surprise this time around, as she was the one Snotlout and Fishlegs were swooning over throughout the film. While it’s possible that some of the reason she was a vied-for love interest was that Astrid was taken and she was the only unattached girl in their peer group, it was cool to see a girl with non-stereotypically-feminine interests and plain features be the sought-after one without ever changing herself for attractiveness’s sake.
Unfortunately, though, most of Astrid’s screentime was spent being a supportive girlfriend to Hiccup. I mean, we do see her being a skilled dragon rider and a competitive and fierce fighter, but I would have liked her to have a little more of her own story. Another strike against the movie is that despite having this wide variety of female characters, it never passes the Bechdel test.
On the topic of ladies, though, apparently Dreamworks has one up on Disney because none of the women in this movie looked like fucking carbon copies of each other. While the women were generally all significantly daintier than the men (apart from Hiccup, of course), they all had recognizably different faces, so apparently that’s a thing that is possible. In fact, the animation in general, from beards to dragons to scenery, is stunning to look at.
This movie does break the norm by giving us a main character with a disability, which is definitely a win for representation. Hiccup is aware of and must accommodate his disability in his everyday life—for example, his prosthetic leg has different attachments for dragon riding and walking, so he has to change it every time he dismounts—but it’s something he’s clearly used to, and we in the audience are not expected to pity him for it. Also, he remains disabled the whole movie, unlike many other disabled characters whose disabilities are cured by magic or something else. He’s also not the only character with a disability: many of the people of Berk are missing a limb or two from a lifetime of fighting dragons, and most importantly, Drago is also missing an arm. This is important for representation because it lets us see the way two different people interact with their disability and how it has affected their lives, rather than presenting a single story of one disabled character as the only option.
Racially, though, the movie is a bit of a fail. On one hand, I understand that Berk is a sort of pseudo-Scandinavian fantasy village, and it’s one thing if that particular town is made up of all white people—especially given that they only recently got the power (via their dragons) to travel particularly long distances. However, the idea that all Scandinavian folks are white is a myth that we already debunked during Frozen’s theatrical heyday, so that really isn’t an excuse. Furthermore, the movie did set up the possibility to include more racial diversity via Hiccup’s map mission. It seemed like he was traveling pretty great distances to map the areas around him, and it would have been really easy to populate one of the places he visited with people of color.
I actually thought Drago was going to be Black—his voice actor, Djimon Hounsou, is, and for a long part of the movie he was shown only from behind or in shadow. In the end he turned out to also be white. I’m torn about whether I would have preferred he be of color, though, because that would make the only Black character in the whole franchise an amoral berserker murderer. It’s the eternal and difficult question: is bad representation better than no representation at all? Honestly, if I had to racebend only one character, I’d rather the dragon trapper Eret son of Eret had been a PoC than Drago—he at least got a character arc, albeit a somewhat rushed one, and pirate crews were historically very racially diverse so it wouldn’t have been a stretch.
Another fail for diversity was the weird allusion to Gobber’s homosexuality. In a move straight out of J.K. Rowling’s playbook, writer Dean Deblois included a line in a scene where Hiccup’s recently reunited parents are arguing: “That’s why I never got married. Well, that, and one other thing,” Gobber says. What is that other thing? According to Deblois, it was Gobber’s coming out as gay, but to audience members it could literally mean anything. Maybe he never married was because he was poor, or had bad BO, or was too dedicated to his blacksmithing.
While Deblois, who is himself gay, pats himself on the back for “successfully” putting a gay supporting character in his children’s movie, anyone who missed the HuffPo article will have no textual evidence for Gobber’s queerness. He was quoted in the above article saying “I think that’s a really fun [and] daring move to put in. I love the idea that Gobber is Berk’s resident gay,” which comes off to me as “lol! I have given no serious thought to the issue of representation, and I believe a story only needs one queer character, so instead of making one of the more relatable teen characters gay I picked the goofy old guy! I also suggested that homophobia and marriage inequality exist in my fantasy world by suggesting that the one gay character couldn’t get married!” Very daring of you, dude. You’re gonna change the world with that attitude.
Diversity issues aside, though, in the end this was definitely an enjoyable film. While I probably won’t see it again in theaters, I do hope that there will be a third installment in the series, and do recommend you all check it out.
What did you think of HTTYD2? Let me know in the comments!