Making sequels is an imprecise science. The best sequels, like The Dark Knight and Toy Story 2 and 3, expand upon the material established in the first film. By contrast, the worst can make you wish the original movie had never been made. Dreamworks recently released the official teaser trailer to How To Train Your Dragon 2 and, after watching it I am … cautiously optimistic. The trailer has its strengths. It successfully recaptures the exhilaration of the first film’s Test Drive sequence with beautiful visuals and music. Most importantly, the bond between Toothless and Hiccup is emphasized. Still, the trailer reveals very little about the movie itself and the absence of any plot details leaves me with unrelieved concerns about the movie:
Hiccup’s Character: At the end of the trailer, Hiccup removes his mask to reveal that he’s aged a few years since the last film … and that puberty has been good to him. Very good. The fact is, he doesn’t look like a nerdy teenager anymore and I wonder how that’s going to impact his character. On the one hand, I don’t want Hiccup to be the same awkward outcast that he was at the beginning of the first movie. Hiccup grew up over the course of How To Train Your Dragon and for him to revert back to his former self would be to compromise the events of the first film (looking at you, Home Alone 2). On the other hand, I’m not keen on seeing Hiccup reduced to a bland Marty Stu archetype. It was his awkwardness that made him endearing. If that’s gone, then what’s left?
Toothless: I really don’t want to see Toothless demoted to the role of “pet.” Toothless was a character in the first film and yet, now that the conflict between vikings and dragons has been resolved, I find that he’s used more and more as a prop. So much time was dedicated in the first film to establishing Hiccup and Toothless’ bond and I’m concerned that this relationship is going to be taken for granted in the sequel. Toothless was not merely a flying machine that made silly faces in the original. He had his own arc. He evolved from being a mysterious and unseen entity (from Hiccup’s perspective) to a distrustful cripple, to a loyal companion. The challenge with a character like Toothless, though, is that it takes more effort and creativity to convey his thoughts in the absence of dialogue. I would argue that it is an effort well worth making, of course, but I worry that, in the interest of developing the new plot, the sequel falls back on Toothless’ adorable facial expressions to keep the audience invested in him, rather than give him a defined personality.
Astrid’s Character: No character has struggled to find a purpose after the original film more than Astrid. She was a good character in How To Train Your Dragon because her antagonistic relationship with Hiccup actually served the story. By the filmmaker’s own admission in the DVD commentary, Astrid was characterized to reflect the ideals of Berk’s society. “She’s … the toughest nut to crack because the cast of teenagers are meant to mirror the older generation … and she’s at the forefront of all that. She believes in all that wholeheartedly. So the fact that she becomes the first to turn when taken up on Toothless and shown a different side of dragons is indicative [that] change is possible.” However, now that dragons and vikings are at peace, Astrid has lost her usefulness. Her aimless role in Gift of the Night Fury is proof enough that the writers just don’t know what to do with her anymore. I don’t want Hiccup and Astrid to revert back to their old dynamic in the sequel, but I would like to see Astrid as an independent and distinct character again.
The Plot: How To Train Your Dragon is not a film that lends itself to sequel-making. While it certainly ends on a high note full of possibilities and new beginnings, the plot of the first movie is very self-contained. The principle conflict is Hiccup’s forbidden friendship with Toothless. At the end of the film, vikings and dragons are reconciled and the issue is resolved. Unfortunately for the sequel, it is this very conflict that makes the first film so special. The film’s eternally relevant theme of bigotry so succinctly summed up in Hiccup’s line, “Everything we know about you guys is wrong,” has to be present in How To Train Your Dragon 2 in order for it to match the emotional power of its predecessor. According to BeyondTheTrailer, the upcoming film pits Hiccup and Toothless against dragon hunter, Drago. This premise has the potential to be compelling so long as there is as a subplot that includes some internal conflict within Berk, preferably relating to the morality of Drago’s enterprise.
On an unrelated note, I’d love to see a third act in which Drago captures Toothless and Hiccup has to fly to his rescue using the mechanical wings featured in the trailer.