Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Room for Improvement:
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Astrid is still a courageous, dedicated young woman, though she isn’t as mean or competitive as she was in the original film. She seems to have accepted her role as the hero’s girlfriend, rather than becoming the hero herself and unfortunately remains more of a supporting character without a significant role in the story.
How to Train You Dragon 2 also introduces a character named Valka who is a strong and sensitive woman dedicated to protecting and caring for injured dragons. Like Hiccup, Valka learned early on that dragons are more than fire-breathing monsters, and that they are intelligent creatures with hearts and souls. She never found the courage to return to Berk and convince her clan of all that she’d learned from the dragons, but she does stick to her ideals even in the face of terrific danger.
Gender Roles - Men: 3.5 Stars
Hiccup has become something of a hero in Berk. He is no longer the weak, insecure outcast that we remember from the original film but is now confident and brave. Hiccup still has reservations about what kind of a leader he will become. He forged his path through patience and understanding, rather than violence and conflict, and intends to continue his role as peacekeeper. But he does take after his father in the fact that he often acts alone, without consulting Astrid or anyone else, and ignoring the advice of those around him.
Family: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 reverses the prevalent stereotype that adventure seeking men are prone to wandering away from their families - or that women are inherently maternal and would never abandon their children in order to pursue some wild ambition. In this story it is the father, Stoick, who has stayed behind and cared for his young son after his wife has disappeared. He’s never remarried, never stopped loving the woman that he lost and easily welcomes her back with open arms. This unexpected set-up could have been improved with just a few scenes in which this loving compassionate father actually tended to his young child. But even as is, and regardless of how audiences respond to Valka’s unconventional role, her decision is likely to spur some dialogue about the roles of mothers and fathers in adventure stories.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2.5 Stars
How to Train Your Dragon 2 includes two slender and attractive women who seem to retain their lovely appearances despite long flights over water and mountains and epic battles with men and beasts. Their hair is never out of place and their outfits are never torn or ragged.
Valka is a refreshing addition because she is still heroic and impressive despite being an older woman. Some of this is counter-balanced by the portrayal of Ruffnut, a young Viking who is reduced to a sort of comic relief due to her lust for someone far more attractive than she is. Overall, the women in How to Train Your Dragon 2 are given far more aggressive roles than those found in most animated films, but they're still subjected to the same difficult beauty standards.
Plot: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
Astrid displays some leadership when Hiccup disappears. She disobeys Stoick’s orders and leads the others in a quest to find him. Unfortunately, her valiant attempt to rescue Hiccup ends with her and the others held captive by Drago’s men. It is Eret, the dragon trapper, who saves them and releases their dragons, making it possible to set off in search of Hiccup once again.
Valka also has her small moments of heroism and leadership. She clashes with Drago as he begins his attack on her nest of dragons, but she is unable to challenge him for long. It’s disappointing that Valka isn’t given a larger opportunity to speak to and command the dragons. Despite her 20 years of experience leading these magnificent creatures, Hiccup and Toothless are still believed to be the only ones that can stop Drago.
Character Development: 2.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Astrid's character remains more or less, a mystery. We don’t know anything about how she would lead Berk, or how she would confront Drago given the opportunity. We know nothing about her parents. We know very little about her relationship with Hiccup. And perhaps worst of all, we know nothing about what’s happened to the drive and ambition that we saw in the first film.
Valka, on the other hand, has a little more background. She was at one time a wife and mother, but she made a conscious decision not to return to her husband and infant son because she felt a stronger connection to the dragons. And because she felt a responsibility to care for and protect them in a world where they were unjustly hunted and killed - and in a world where no one shared her beliefs or would even consider the possibility that Vikings and dragons could live in harmony. Valka’s decision can be interpreted multiple ways. Some may consider it a sign of strength and loyalty, while others will consider it cowardly and cruel. But whatever the interpretation of Valka’s story, she is at least given some substance. She’s a woman who has sacrificed much for a cause, who is wrestling with some grief over the decisions she’s made, and searching for a way to make it up to the son she abandoned.
Love: 3 Stars
The romance between Astrid and Hiccup is not any further developed in this film than it was in the original. They’ve been brought together by their love of dragons and a thirst for adventure. Astrid has come around to Hiccup’s way of thinking and embraced the idea of peace over war and violence, but there’s little evidence of a deeper connection between them.
The other love story in this film, between Stoick and Valka, is far more tender and real. We can easily assume that they shared a rich history together before Valka disappeared, even though the details are largely left to the imagination. The couple shares an old song that gives us a small taste of what their forgotten romance might have looked like. We also notice that Stoick, a harsh and brutal Viking, becomes surprisingly soft and bowed upon seeing his lost wife after so many years. He expresses no anger, no shame, no hurt or sense of betrayal. Nothing but love, forgiveness and vulnerability.