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How To Train Your Dragon 2 by John Powell (Review)

posted May 17, 2014, 4:16 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated May 17, 2014, 9:30 PM ]

John Powell can build some of the most beautiful narratives you’ll ever hear in a score. He is one of my personal favorite composers, and in many ways he's part of how I became interested in scores when I was younger. Unfortunately he’s been personally growing apart from film music lately, and thus the number of scores we get to experience from him is diminishing. He is also the undisputed king of animation scoring as no one can bring a world to life like Powell can. How To Train Your Dragon was his most inspired work to date. It was simply one of the most beautiful scores I had heard from him. The score garnered him his first Oscar nomination and left us with magnificent themes. One could be weary about How To Train Your Dragon 2 as Powell’s track record for sequels to his own scores aren’t the best. Happy Feet 2 and Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs are two examples of scores that lacked the emotional resonance of the first effort. Thankfully How To Train Your Dragon 2 is not among those scores, in fact it’s just as brilliant as his first effort and in ways is a grander experience. This score is rich and full of life that will send you on another breathtaking journey in the Viking world of dragons. 

The first track explodes us into an amazing medley of all the wonderful themes from the first film. It serves as a grand welcoming back to the world of the film. The rest of the narrative is expertly structured around a new theme that Powell introduces. The film takes a page out of the Brave book and builds a theme around a Scottish styled hymn sung by the characters in the film. This hymn is an anchoring theme for Hiccup and his journey to the discovery of his mother. The best part is that Powell doesn’t rely too heavily on this new theme, it acts more as an additional motif versus the central one. The score fractures the old themes and presents them in new ways, new tempos and new arrangements. The score doesn’t feel like a “sequel” score and doesn’t try to distance itself from the first one. Instead we get bolder moments that are brought to life by huge choirs adding a considerable amount of weight to areas of the score. Powell is no stranger to choirs, but he really utilizes them perfectly here. Percussion is on the light side here for Powell standards making this score sweeping and lush versus aggressive and intense. However, the antagonist Drago brings some huge music along with him. This brings waves upon waves of emotional moments that whisk the listener away. Tracks are long and build the story in a way that you never fall out of it. Toothless’ flying motif becomes noticeably absent after the track “Toothless Lost”, but boy does it make a triumphant return. The whole experience comes to an emotionally fulfilling end that will leave you with chills, tears and the need to re-experience it all over again.

John Powell may be disappearing again for the next few years as he goes on another sabbatical, but at least he left us with this gorgeous score. This is Powell firing on all cylinders as he doesn’t miss a single beat. The score is a prime example of his abilities and what a score is supposed to do. It’s takes what the first score was and fleshes it out even more. We may have lost those smaller intimate moments from the first score, but it doesn't mean that this score is lacking any piercing emotion. Huge orchestral soundscapes that fill the air with lush themes make for one of the most memorable scores of John’s career. It has all the different elements that make a John Powell score what it is. From the warmth of the characters to the stakes of the action to the blissful wonder of this fantasy world, this score brings it all to life. Jónsi returns to collaborate with Powell once again for a great song to end the film on. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is simply wonderful storytelling done by one of the great composer auteurs and shouldn't be missed.