Our gratitude to Master Cat! Cory Milles for this transformative analysis.
The movie How to Train Your Dragon is dedicated to the memory of Blake Snyder, and with good reason. The film has the Beat Sheet flowing through its veins. It’s a primary example of how a story can use structure to weave a theme throughout a plot without feeling formulaic.
The second film of the planned trilogy is no less powerful than its predecessor. Pitting the protagonist against new problems and challenges opens up opportunities to explore growth, and the sequel does this well. One thing is clear: Blake would have been proud of its creators.
Written and Directed by: Dean DeBlois
Based on: the How to Train Your Dragon book series by Cressida Cowell
Genre: Rite of Passage
Opening Image: The film opens on the Viking village of Berk as the main character, Hiccup, narrates. He tells of how his people once fought the dragons as enemies but have now made peace with them, even keeping them as pets. This is further illustrated when a sheep is plucked off the ground by dragon claws, a visual callback to the first film. Only this time, the dragons aren’t stealing the sheep for food; they’re using them in a sport.
Set-Up: While the rest of the town enjoys the festivities and the flying, Hiccup soars through the air with his Night Fury, Toothless. His mechanical genius is shown in the various devices he has built to aid him in flight and exploration. Hiccup has mastered using Toothless’s artificial tail fin to guide their flight. Together, they explore and map out new territories. He has even devised a winged flying suit that allows him to fly alongside Toothless, although he needs more practice. Hiccup tells us that while the Viking village lives in harmony with the dragons, Vikings riding on flying dragons can only mean one thing: the world is about to get a whole lot bigger.
It is five years after the first story, which means that Hiccup’s world is not only much different, his problems are different as well. Even though he is now the pride of Berk for his accomplishments with the dragons, the weight of responsibility has grown for him as well. As he and Toothless map out a new-found island, his girlfriend Astrid arrives on her own dragon, wondering why he is avoiding everyone in Berk. Hiccup confides about how he is avoiding his father, Stoick the Vast, who wants Hiccup to become the next chieftain. Hiccup is unsure if this responsibility is one he is willing to embrace; he has always done things his own way, not necessarily the way of the village. For him, this is a stasis=death moment.
Theme Stated: Hiccup tells Astrid that he does not know who he is or where he fits in. He is not strong and forceful like his father, and he never even knew his mother, who died long ago. Hiccup must discover who he is and how he fits in the big picture.
Catalyst: While discussing this with Astrid, Hiccup sees smoke in the distance, evidence of a fire. They fly toward it to investigate.
Debate: As soon as they arrive, they find not only evidence of a fire, but of human activity as well. A giant ice formation engulfs a fort. Soon, they are confronted by a man named Eret, a dragon trapper who accuses Hiccup of stealing his dragons and destroying his fort. Eret and his men have been capturing dragons for Drago Bludvist, a man known for his ruthlessness and his dragon army.
Hiccup is stunned at the news that there are other dragon riders, and he and Astrid escape to warn Stoick. Upon hearing the news, Stoick immediately orders Berk to be sealed off, keeping the dragons protected. Stoick believes that battle is imminent, but Hiccup believes otherwise. He wants to try his approach, to reason with Drago and convince him that war is not the answer. After all, Hiccup was able to reason with Stoick years ago, and now the village lives in harmony with the dragons they once hunted. Stoick, however, declares that Drago cannot be reasoned with.
Hiccup and Toothless fly away from the safety of Berk, believing that his method will work; he will try to reason with Drago. Astrid and her dragon follow. They attempt to surrender to Eret so that they will be taken to Drago, but Stoick and the blacksmith, Gobber, along with Hiccup’s friends, arrive to try and stop him. Stoick tells Hiccup that he had met Drago once, long ago, and that Drago had insisted that he could guarantee peace with dragons as long as Stoick and the others bowed down to him. When everyone refused, Drago’s armor-clad dragons descended on the assembly, killing everyone except Stoick, who escaped.
Break into Two: Despite this warning, Hiccup still refuses to believe that Drago cannot be reasoned with. He and Toothless fly away, but are soon overtaken by a masked figure standing on top of a flying dragon. Hiccup is captured and taken by the mysterious Dragon Rider to an island cave full of dragons.
B Story: Captive, Hiccup reveals to the Rider that he, too, can control and understand dragons. The Rider touches a scar on his face, then takes off the mask. The rider is female, a woman named Valka. She is Hiccup’s long-lost mother. The
B Story is not only Hiccup’s relationship with his mother, it is with his family as a whole. Through this, he will learn who he is deep down, as well as who he needs to become.
Fun & Games: Toothless is brought to the cave, and Hiccup spends time with Valka, who shows him the inner sanctum of the island… a veritable paradise exists within it, filled with dragons she has saved over the past 20 years. The sanctuary is Eden-like, unlike the hellish hive Hiccup discovered in the first story.
Hiccup shares what he had learned, and he learns from his mother’s experience, too. The dragons are protected by a massive Alpha dragon, the Bewilderbeast. All of the other dragons obey it, except for the youngest. Hiccup is amazed by the harmony of the place, and even more amazed that he and his mother are so much alike at heart. Valka reveals that when he was a baby, during a dragon raid, she learned that dragons are not vicious like they had thought, and one had carried her off in fear.
Midpoint: Soon, all of the dragons fly out in a swarm as they go to feed. Whereas in the first film, the Alpha dragon rose from the depths to plunder the food from the other dragons, the Bewilderbeast rises to provide a feast of fish for those under its protection.
Valka shows off her flying skills, and Hiccup does the same, even showing her how he can fly with his own “wings.” Hiccup is completely happy, having found his mother and another part of who he is.
Bad Guys Close In: Hiccup wants to go and try to reason with Drago, but Valka disagrees; they must not confront him, but should focus on protecting the other dragons. Both parents now disagree with his solution: one suggested war while the other suggests avoidance. Hiccup’s happiness is short-lived as his father tracks him down and finds him on the island. Hiccup reveals the earth-shattering news that his mother is alive, filling Stoick with joy.
Meanwhile, Hiccup’s friends kidnap Eret and force him to lead them to Drago, but they themselves are captured. Brought before Drago, Eret reveals that Berk has dragons of their own, something Drago desires. While Hiccup has learned to control dragons with peace and caring, Drago does so with fear and intimidation.
Stoick and Valka enjoy a brief respite, rekindling their romance as Hiccup looks on, the first time he has ever seen his parents together. But it does not last long; Drago closes in as he brings a massive army to the island to try and steal the dragons. He reveals that he, too, has an Alpha dragon, a Bewilderbeast that does his bidding and controls all other dragons that are within its grasp.
A massive battle ensues among humans and dragons. As Stoick fights Drago, both Alphas fight for dominance in the background. Drago’s Alpha is victorious, and control over all of the dragons soon turns to him.
Hiccup tries to talk with Drago and convince him to end the battle, but Drago only desires control and power; he uses the Alpha to control Toothless and orders that Hiccup be killed. Toothless, the once-faithful companion, turns on Hiccup, predator cornering prey. Toothless attacks, shooting a fiery blast from his mouth, but Stoick jumps in front just before it strikes Hiccup.
All Is Lost: Valka and Hiccup rush over to Stoick’s lifeless body. The whiff of death is in the air as Toothless is temporarily released from the Alpha’s control, hurrying over to comfort Hiccup. But in Hiccup’s rage, he yells at Toothless, unknowingly pushing him away to be captured by Drago.
Dark Night of the Soul: Sending off his father’s body in a Viking funeral, Hiccup now realizes that he must take on the responsibility he tried to avoid. He understands that he must defend Berk, but he will do it his own way.
Break into Three: Using the baby dragons that were not under either Alpha’s control, Hiccup and the others set off for Berk.
Finale: Drago and his army arrive at Berk, the Alpha now taking control of all their dragons. An icy blast from the Alpha engulfs parts of the village, and Drago believes he has conquered them all. Until, that is, Hiccup and the other riders arrive.
Stunned at Hiccup’s relentless determination, Drago attempts to have Toothless kill him again. Hiccup flies in front of the Alpha-controlled Toothless, trying to break him from the control by talking to him. The bond they have formed is stronger than any the Alpha could have, and Toothless breaks free.
Hiccup and Toothless engage the others in battle, making one final plea with Drago to reconsider. Instead, Drago tries to kill Hiccup, knocking him to the ground while standing atop the Alpha. Suddenly, Toothless stands against the enormous creature, challenging it. As he fires against it repeatedly, defending his owner and friend, the Alpha’s control weakens and the other dragons begin to recognize Toothless as their leader. In unison, they join together to defeat the Bewilderbeast and Drago.
Final Image: The story closes on Berk as it is restored. Hiccup has become the leader he did not know he could be, and he stands tall, ready to lead his village as he follows in his father’s footsteps.
Check out Dean DeBlois’ guest blog, written when How to Train Your Dragon was released in 2010.