Can a sequel actually be as good as the original? "How to Train Your Dragon 2" takes on the challenge with a firebreathing approach to what you think a sequel should be in a land of mythology with more than a few teachable moments.
The 3D animated feature begins much like the original (and the daytime cartoon) with our skinny young hero, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) narrating how their Viking town of Berk is a lot more fun to live in now that dragons have been integrated into it. Once a fire-breathing scourge, they're now helpful pets, partners and even objects for town pride. Yes, there are dragon races and no, animal rights groups weren't outraged during the dragon races.
Hiccup is still skinny and a bit gawky, but his awkwardness is now replaced with a bit more confidence. Growing up sort of does that to you. Although pressured by his dad, village leader Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) to take the next step in taking over, Hiccup would rather explore his surroundings. Accompanied by his dragon partner Toothless, he is out mapping new viking frontiers while testing out his personal hang-gliding system.
While exploring, he encounters Eret (Kit Harington), a viking dragon trapper who happens to work for all-around bad guy Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou). Bludvist is out to enslave all dragons and kill those who stand in his way. As you can tell, he's not exactly fun at parties. Despite Stoick's objections, Hiccup sets out to reason with the tyrant. Before you can say "rescue mission," Hiccup's girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) leads their friends to bring Hiccup back before he loses his head. Joining them on their mission is the self appointed dragon savior Valka (Cate Blanchett) who has a unique bond with young Hiccup.
What could've been a blatant effort to move dragon merchandise instead becomes one of the best 3D films of the year with serious themes between the laughs. The original "How to Train Your Dragon" not only featured the rough road to friendship between Hiccup and Toothless, but also using reason in the face of war. It also deals with the sacrifices those choices create. The sequel is no different as the town of Berg faces a new war with a violent end that will leave many cheering, but a few little ones a bit shaken.
Based on the childrens books by Cressida Cowell, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" tackles mature subjects in a fun, exciting way that will give parents and kids something to talk about long after the end credits (yes, you should stay for the credits) are over. Family and friendship rule the day and director Dean Debois never lets you forget it. As Hiccup says "We are the voice of peace, and bit by bit, we will change the world." Put that on an action figure and I'll buy it.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" - Rated PG. Running time: 102 minutes. In release nationwide