The story begins five years after the original 2010 movie. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now an older and wiser teenager and master Dragon Whisperer. Through his efforts the citizens of his hometown, the Viking village of Berk, no longer fear dragons. In fact, the fire breathers have become part of the fabric of life. They have dragon races—that resemble Harry Potter’s Quidditch matches—and live a peaceful life co-existing with their serpentine pals.
Peace is threatened when Dragon Trappers, lead by the evil Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), set their eye on the domesticated dragons of Berk. To avoid a war Hiccup and his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) must change Drago’s mind about enslaving dragons.
The follow-up to “How to Train Your Dragon” half-a-billion-dollar grossing coming-of-age story is more of an action/adventure movie than the original. It begins with a stunning aerobatics sequence that shows Hiccup and his trusty sidekick Toothless soaring through the air doing barrel rolls, loops and stunts usually only seen at airshows. The slick and sassy scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s a wild ride and one that reinvents the franchise.
Director Dean DeBlois has taken some chances with the story, deepening and darkening the tone with subplots about family relationships, prejudice and sacrifice. Some of the imagery is intense—the “alpha” dragons look like they sprung from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft—and may be a bit traumatic for toddlers, but should be fine for kids 6 and up.
It’s not all sturm and drang, however. Baruchel brings the fun with his expressive voice and the script is gently humorous. The focus is firmly on the action/adventure aspects of the story, but there are laughs along the way for ids and adults.
Without slavishly aping the original it thematically expands the universe, building on ideas established in the movie that audiences first fell in love with. In other words, it’s a sequel, with recognizable characters and situations, but also works as a stand-alone film.
Most of all it’s about the on screen imagery. Inventive sequences—it “rains” fish at feeding time in the dragon sanctuary for instance—and beautiful animation carry the day.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is high on spectacle and never wastes an opportunity to entertain the eye and up the wonder factor, but it’s not just shock and awe. An emotional subplot regarding family adds some weight to the fantasy elements of the story.