Four years. I waited for years for the next How to Train Your Dragon film. That is the problem with computer-rendered movies; if you want them to look pretty and have a solid story, then you have to be willing to wait for it all to come together. Thankfully, it was all worthwhile. And as an extra benefit, I received quite a shocking delight towards the end.
The first Dragon film took me by surprise. I honestly thought it would be a typical Dreamworks silly-fest. I was completely and utterly wrong.
Right around the time that everyone was drooling over the effects of Avatar, Dragon came out and showed them how to really do it. Toothless in flight is simply amazing. The clouds rendered as three-dimensional elements that they flew through, not just around, the textures, the humor; and just as much detail was given to the rest of the film.
Still, the moment that always thrills me is when Hiccup goes flying with his cheat sheet. He has worked and tweaked his inventions to make flying possible. He has different settings for each aerial maneuver. He thinks he is prepared. Then, as has to happen, something goes wrong. No more notes. His dragon is slipping away, panic sets in, and the ground is coming closer and closer. So what does he do?
He focuses, grabs on tight, and basically says, “Screw it”. That is the part that gets me. You plan your life out to a certain limit; you tell yourself that it will all work out a certain way, and –bam-! You have to adapt. When Hiccup throws his plans away, trusts his training, and goes with his gut; that was when I knew I wanted more of this movie. I was dying for a sequel.
No dialog. You know how to fix that? Go watch the whole movie. On a big TV.
Clearly, the movie had a lot to live up to. And it did. I still haven’t decided, but it may have exceeded the first. The underlying plot of “it is okay to be different” from the first film was used as bedrock for the second. In the sequel, the viewer realizes, “it is okay to see the world differently”. Just as the character shifts from learning about himself and his dragon to seeing all the islands and their denizens around them, the theme moves from self-discovery to finding one’s place in the world. More dragons are introduced, more clans are viewed, and more realms are glimpsed.
Happily, the broadened scope does not take the focus off of character. Hiccup still has problems with his dad. Toothless remains adorable, unpredictable, and joyful. Astrid continues to be more glory-fueled than her boyfriend. The goofy townspeople now have dragons to play comedic beats off of. The whole production works. And yes, the villain is scary, the dragon fights are well thought out, and the ending makes sense.
Then there was the part that I did not see coming. Much to my surprise, I realized about fifteen minutes from the end that this is the most Quaker movie ever made. What about Friendly Persuasion, you say (all two of you who have heard of it). In that movie, the pastor and his family break pretty much every Quaker tenet that they mention. Hiccup, on the other hand, lives out many of the things that make Quakers who we are.
First off, he seeks out quiet. He flies to explore, he goes on discoveries; in short, he makes time to be alone and figure things out for himself. Second, he thinks that animals should be treated as pets, not as beasts. He doesn’t break an animal’s spirit, he learns to adapt to it. When Quakers (or Friends Society, if you prefer) first started out in the 1600’s, being kind to animals soon became an important focus for them. Going hunting for dragons would have been on their “thou shall not” list.
Number three, Hiccup stands his moral ground. His dad wants to kill. His townspeople want to kill. Hiccup wants to talk. He tries repeatedly to engage in conversation, as opposed to starting a war. Even after being threatened, he keeps trying to make peace. In fact, at the very end of the movie there is a monologue from Hiccup. In this exciting summer blockbuster, he distinctly states that his clan strives for peace.
Finally, there is forgiveness and reconciliation throughout the film. An estranged member of the town of Berg is shown. How are they greeted? With hugs and songs. Reparations are quickly made and conflicts are worked out. Affection for their loved one is shown to be more important than the pain that was inflicted. One of the dragons does something so completely unthinkable that I spent a few minutes trying to wrap my mind around it. (I kept thinking to myself, “So help me, if you end on this note…”) It is violent, it is damaging, and the entire town is affected by it. But forgiveness is doled out in heaps. A touch from a friend and we know that everything will be okay, even if it does not seem to be coming soon.
To review: Hiccup takes time out of his day to be quiet and focus. Hiccup is kind to animals, while using them in his daily tasks. Hiccup shirks violence in favor of reconciliation. Hiccup forgives, and urges other to do the same. And finally, Hiccup invokes healing and rebuilds trust through physical contact and faith.
If you throw some worship of God in there, you have a Quaker. Pretty much everything (except for that whole God-part) is right there.
Bigger. Faster. Bolder. More peaceful-er?
In a time when Superman kills millions in his fight to break necks and giant robots are fighting giant robots while people die in the rubble, there are differing viewpoints. X-Men: Days of Future Past spends two hours telling us that fighting only leads to more strife and death. How to Train Your Dragon 2 shows that the best way to defeat someone is to keep showing them love. Hope for a peaceful situation. That is a kind of movie I can watch over and over. So I will.
That third movie has a lot to live up to. I am just glad it is only two years away, and not four.