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Soundtrack Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

June 16, 2014

HTTYD2 CD & DIGITAL ALBUM COVER FINALBy Erin Corrado

Released on iTunes last week, and coming to CD tomorrow, the soundtrack for How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a must buy for fans of both film music as well as the HTTYD films.

The soundtrack opens with a rousing and joy filled re-imagining on the themes from the first film. The first film’s soundtrack was my favourite from 2010 and with what John Powell has done with the second film, it will be hard for this one to not remain in my top spot for this year.

Track 2 has a sense of wonder and begins to bring in new themes and sounds for this film. The opening of the track is gorgeous and sets up a new theme that variations of will be heard throughout. The Celtic influences are ever present here, both in the instrumentation and the rhythms. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love these scores so much, as I am partial to Celtic sounds. Many of the original themes are present here, although blended perfectly without feeling like just a copy. Track 3 starts with a quiet version of the main theme, but blends into an entirely new theme with choir mixed in that is for the new antagonist of this film. The way it ties into minor versions of the original themes works brilliantly. This is a piece that epitomizes the feeling of the new film – old yet new at the same time. The counterpoint at the end of this track is perfectly orchestrated and feels very classically inspired.

Next is Track 4, which after starting out lighter, moves to a sense of urgency, then changes towards the end and briefly takes on the new and mysterious theme that will feature prominently throughout the film. Track 5 opens again with the choral feeling that distinguishes this film at times from the first one, before moving towards the main theme and finally introducing the character Valka as we hear her theme’s styles blended in with the main ones. The notes that score her often have a light stepping but also sweeping quality to them, coupled with a mysterious feeling of sorts. Her themes continue to build and come into light in Track 6, a stunning introduction to a hidden world. It is a beautifully written track, fully exploring one of the new themes, and finishing with a mysterious take on the main theme. Track 7 plays over a flashback in the film and has a powerful use of the new themes – this track and its music is a perfect example of the new emotional sounds of this film.

Track 8 starts a darker feel into the score as the film leads to its more intense final act. The themes for new character Drago are well done and this track sets the stage for the confrontation we are leading up to. There are really two threads to the film’s storyline. The larger story of the threat of war on a grand scale, and the smaller personal story between characters that reunite. Track 9 quiets down towards the end into a beautiful reveal in this personal story. The Celtic ‘quivers’ in the music are beautifully done throughout. Track 10 is an interesting play on themes. With vocal combined with the other instruments, and interesting uses of percussion with counterpointed themes, this is a light airy piece of music to match a flight through the sky. Valka’s themes are all magical and have a sense of playfulness about them – they are also very Celtic.

As characters meet, their themes intertwine as well and it is this attention to detail that heightens this score above many. Track 11 though, was a moment in the film where music did play a key role for the characters as well as just as background. This is a song ‘For the Dancing and the Dreaming’ that is sung within the film over a beautifully emotional moment. It is also a moment of respite before we are flung into a final act that tests the limits of the characters beyond what they had to face in the first film. The song’s melody is also present in a few notes throughout the score at key moments.

Track 12 starts very much with the themes from the original film before delving into a kind of musically ordered chaos and dance between themes and instruments. It is fast, loud, and melodic all at once. It is also an ensemble piece calling each theme into play one after the other, seamlessly and flawlessly, before breaking through to the newer themes in the last half of the track. This weaving of themes is what is done so well with the HTTYD music John Powell has created. It builds on itself and folds around itself in ways that are familiar and new all at once and drive the story forward.

Track 13 has a impending sadness about it, a sort of sense of foreboding, it is an intense track with percussion and repeated themes playing against a darker version of the themes. Then it becomes locked in and repetitive as though stuck in a trance towards the end, moving forward, seemingly unaware of where it is going. In the final moments of the track a version of one of the main themes comes in unable to tame the music in time. From this we head into Track 14. The trance is broken, and the newer themes come in. Slowly, sadly, these themes hold more and more power as they change with each emotional beat of the story. As the track builds, there is almost an anger heard behind the relatively slow themes. Moving directly into Track 15, this is one of the moments where the theme from Track 11’s song comes in. It is a slow rendition and another example of how the themes are used to powerful effect by changing the tempo and orchestration of them. This is a piece laden with emotion although feeling organic rather than forced.

Those who watch the film and listen to the soundtrack afterwards will fully understand the quality of the scoring done for this film. By the end of Track 15, the main HTTYD theme reemerges for a moment, defying the attempt to beat it down. These three tracks (13-15) all play around one point in the story and work around each other so well. Many of the tracks could be placed into sets of three or so as they all lead into each other at different points and surround certain plot points.

Which launches us into the final set. The finale. Track 16 starts. The music slowly rises to fully take on the theme trying to break through at the end of the last track, determined to stand ground and fight back. Track 17 begins with ostinato playing under most of it. It is an interesting usage of music. The fight to be faced is more mental than physical and the music when it breaks through to the new HTTYD 2 themes towards the end of this track, plays powerfully taking a stand. The mix of versions of the original themes with these ones create a powerful moment which almost puts you emotionally into the film if that makes any sense.

The penultimate track, Track 18, fully takes on the themes and stands anew, expanding all the themes into one whole set, playing them as an ensemble and fighting back, sure of themselves, leading us to the new place the characters stand, battered, changed, but ready for the third instalment. The second half of this track calls back themes from the first film, the beginning of this film, and the song from Track 11, until finally coming full circle to the main theme. The listening experience of the whole score is something to behold to be sure. It is also a score that at least once, should be listened to in its entirety from beginning to end where you can hear how the tracks interplay into each other.

When watching the film, it was the familiar themes I noticed, but on CD, my attention was called towards everything new and amazing about this score. The expansion on the first score and the way it ties in is much like the film itself. In some ways, the pieces have a greater sense of epicness – the world Hiccup and Toothless live in has expanded, and the music has as well. The sense of mystery, wonder, and emotion is perfectly captured through John Powell’s work here.

The last track on the CD – Track 19 – is another song by Jónsi and John Powell (like the end credits song in the first film), entitled ‘Where No One Goes’. It very much plays with the musical themes from the film and is a fitting end to the soundtrack.

The score to How To Train Your Dragon 2 is stunning in the film and possibly even more so on CD as you can really focus on the music. Many scores don’t feel so complete on their own as this one does – it tells the story musically and still manages to be inconspicuously wrapped into the images as you watch the film. It is brilliantly noticeable and unnoticeable all at once, in the same way the lighting or character design is. The tracks are also carefully titled so as not to give too much of the plot away, but also are clear for those who have seen the film.

There is no way I would be able to not recommend this soundtrack. I love it and it will be one I will be wanting to give multiple listens to (beyond the ones I’ve already given it). It manages to be fresh and perfectly complimentary to the first film at the same time. It also manages to be a work of art that even on its own feels complete and is one of the most wonderful and powerfully written things I’ve listened to this year.

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The soundtrack for How To Train Your Dragon 2 is available on CD starting June 17th, 2014 in select markets. It was released on iTunes in North America on June 10th, 2014.

The soundtrack has 19 tracks and runs for an impressive 68 mins., 26 secs. The score for How To Train Your Dragon 2 was composed by John Powell, with a collaboration between Powell and Jónsi for the end credits track ‘Where No One Goes’.

You can read our full reviews of the film here.

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