As a film, How to Train your Dragon 2 is a soaring, thrilling and often deeply involving story (for my review of the film, click here), and so it takes a seasoned pro such as John Powell to produce a score that only enhances all those feelings during the film’s narrative. Though it may be a children’s film, Powell’s score is as grand and wonderfully composed as any big Hollywood blockbuster score. Powell got his first Oscar nomination for his score for the first film, and has stated that he intended to for his music to have developed just like that of the film’s characters, and it truly has.
Yes it may have the expected combination of uplifting, bold and brash pieces and slower, more intimate pieces, but Powell’s score predominantly rises above just being another generic blockbuster score to be a score that when listened to in isolation evokes all the film’s various stirring emotions once again. Of course I do not want to include spoilers so will refrain from stating exactly what each track represents within the narrative.
The opening track ‘Dragon Racing’ is a suitably epic composition with rousing strings and uplifting choral arrangements that evoke perfectly the feeling of flying through the air. This is a feeling replicated in the epic tracks ‘Flying with Mother’, ‘Battle of the Bewilderbeast’, ‘Hiccup Confronts Drago’ and ‘Two New Alphas’ which are truly rousing and deserve to be played very loud. Meanwhile tacks such as ‘Hiccup the Chief/ Drago’s Coming’ and ‘Toothless Found’ begin with infectious and intimate strings and build to an epic crescendo.
Using Celtic instruments such as the bagpipes, Celtic harp, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and the bodhrán could have ended up gimmicky if overused, but Powell doesn’t and their sparing but effective use only enhance the magical feeling of the score. Tracks such as ‘Should I know you?’, ‘Volka’s Dragon Sanctuary’, ‘Losing Mom/ Meet the Good Alpha’ combine strings and choruses to be truly immersive. While the slower pieces like ‘Stoick Saves Hiccup’ and ‘Stoick’s Ship’ really tug at the heartstrings. Any track that has the name ‘Drago’ in its title has suitably darker strings at time to represent the presence of the film’s main antagonist.
James Newton Howard tried very similar methods to Powell with his score to Maleficent, and though it had some good moments it was often too intrusive, yet Powell manages the balance perfectly and I am sure will earn himself another Oscar nomination next year.
The score also features several songs; ‘For the Dancing and the Dreaming’ features Gerard Butler singing and is slightly forgettable and could have perhaps done with not being included in the score, especially in the middle. The track over the closing credits ‘Where No One Goes’ sung by Jónsi of Sigur Rós is a truly foot stomping anthem and a suitable closing track. However the final track, an acoustic song by Alexander Rybak called ‘Into a Fantasy’ is slightly forgettable.
Some scores of a similar vein end up merging into one and are decent, but forgettable background music, yet each track in Powell’s score stands out by itself making for a score of consistent high quality. It sets a standard that so many blockbuster scores should strive for and only serves as a compliment to a wonderful film, but also an immersive stand alone listen. The only downside is the inclusion of a couple of the film’s songs that serve more as an unwelcome distraction than anything else, but I doubt that is Powell’s fault.