If training a giant fire-breathing lizard to peacefully co-exist with humans seems difficult or rare, writer-director Dean DeBlois has achieved something challenging by creating an animated sequel that's nearly free of the ravages of disappointment.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 retains the charm and spectacle of the previous movie. It also has new characters who fit easily into the previous movie's world, and DeBlois' new storyline does more than follow the tracks of the previous film.
In the new installment, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) no longer lives in a village that fears aerial assaults from dragons. Instead, these Vikings can ride the flying beasts like horses and have an almost symbiotic relationship with them.
Instead of lamenting his son's less than battleworthy attitude, Hiccup's dad Chief Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) now sees the lad as a natural successor instead of a letdown. Unfortunately, Hiccup chafes at his now predetermined destiny. Now that he's come up with a new suit of armor that enables him to glide like his dragon Toothless, Hiccup wants to see if there's more to the world than the North Atlantic.
Hiccup also discovers that there's a lot more danger as well. A trapper named Eret (voiced by Kit Harington) specializes in capturing dragons and forcing them to do the bidding of his psychopathic boss Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou).
At the same time, Hiccup learns the fate of his long-lost mother Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett). She wasn't seen in the last film, but she obviously had something to do with Stoick's hatred of dragons and Hiccup's ability to cooperate with them. Even in cartoons, asexual reproduction is a bit of a stretch.
The new storyline appears to be have been thought out carefully because it consistently justifies a return trip. There are enough new wrinkles in the story and some developments with the characters that keep How to Train Your Dragon 2 from feeling like a shed dragon skin. While no one questions Hiccup’s courage or fortitude this time around , he’s understandably wary of the responsibility involved with inheriting his dad’s job.
The writer-director does demonstrate some of Hiccup’s courage by taking some risks with the tale and not sugarcoating what might go wrong with people regularly living with dragons. Some younger children might be upset by these developments, but these gambles make the story more emotionally rewarding in the end.
DeBlois and his crew also give their characters a bit more physical sophistication as well. Now that he’s 20, Hiccup sports some slight but noticeable peach fuzz on his jawline, and Stoick’s arms are drenched in body hair.
Even though DeBlois isn’t teaming with Chris Sanders (with whom he also partnered on 2002’s Lilo & Stitch) this time, he thankfully remembers everything the two of them did right in the previous film. The dragons aren’t anthropomorphized, which is refreshing. One might dread who would be cast as the voices of these creatures (sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch is too busy being Smaug). Nonetheless, each dragon has a personality, and DeBlois and his legion of collaborators have been paying close attention to real dogs and cats.
As for the battle and flight sequences, they’re even more spectacular. There are even a pair of dragons who can breathe out pillars of ice.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 proves that one can go back home or that lightning can strike twice. Yes, these things happen in the real world, but it’s refreshing to see them happen on screen, too.
MovieStyle on 06/13/2014
Print Headline: How to Train Your Dragon 2