The necessity of war is not a topic most kids’ movies tackle. However, How to Train Your Dragon 2 dives into it headfirst.
There’s a lot of diving, actually.
Set five years after the first film, the main character Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is offered the chance to lead his village after his father’s upcoming retirement.
Instead of leading a village full of Vikings and dragons, he’d rather go on explorations and adventures with his half-dog/half-dragon Toothless. (His pet’s teeth are actually retractable.) The flying and diving scenes alone are worth the price of admission, even without 3D.
When their community is threatened by an unrelentingly evil villain named Drago Bludvist, Hiccup wants to go and reason with him. (Slight spoilers ahead.) The young Hiccup brags about his rhetorical skills, about his ability to persuade people to come over to his point of view. He is known for getting people to change, to reconsider their evil ways.
His dad (played by Gerard Butler) tries to set him straight. First, he tells him that some people just want war and can’t be reasoned with. When his warning is ignored, he tells his son the true story of how he knows the true nature of Drago — because he was the lone survivor of a bloodbath Drago inflicted on all of his friends.
You’re right to sense this is a darker children’s movie than you’ve come to expect. However, the film is notable because of its interestingly mature approach to what it means to love peace.
As Hiccup defies his father and seeks to find — and reason with – Drago, he puts himself and those he loves at risk . . . to devastating consequences. The New York Times puts it this way:
. . . this doctrinaire peacenik finds himself obliged to acknowledge that pure evil exists and that some monsters are so bent on power and destruction that no argument for peace and love can make them see the light; fighting back is the regrettable but necessary response to their aggression.
When I told my husband the plot, he quoted Théoden from Lord of the Rings when it looked as if the Hornburg might fall: “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
The movie is not perfect — and perhaps too dark for some children.
However, in a nation ruled by naïve, incompetent leaders who believe diplomacy (even of the hashtag variety) can solve the most complicated problems, it was a welcomed and refreshing way to spend a summer afternoon.
(How to Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.)