By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Every summer movie season has its expected share of sequels.  So far, Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t so amazing, while X-Men: Days of Future Past revitalized a long running franchise that has had its share of ups and downs.  In 2010, DreamWorks Animation started a potentially successful new movie franchise with How to Train Your Dragon, a truly delightful and exciting film about a Viking misfit named Hiccup who discovers an alternative to endlessly battling dragons. As most people know, sequels are a risky business. Producers attempt to outshine the work done in the initial film, but often fail. Thankfully, this second chapter in the franchise, though it never outshines the first, makes for a wonderful second installment. It is a movie that holds up well on its own, but also advances the story well and further develops our beloved characters from the first film.

This sequel picks up five years after the first film’s ending. The village of Berk has become a more vibrant and exciting community ever since its people started embracing dragons as their friends and not their enemies. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon companion Toothless have been traveling beyond their community, seeking out new lands and other people. While out exploring, Hiccup, his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and their dragons encounter a group of dragon hunters led by Eret (Kit Harrington). After failing to capture their dragons, Eret warns Hiccup and Astrid that an evil hunter named Drago (Djimon Hounsou) will certainly succeed where he failed.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is definitely the sequel fans of the first film want and will definitely love and enjoy.  The flying scenes are just as thrilling and exhilarating as the ones in the first movie as are the action sequences. The heart and love from the first installment is ever present. Writer/director Dean Dubois has done an outstanding job taking the story into more mature material, as Hiccup is now a young adult and faces the responsibilities that come with this.  He also has to face the realization that his people will look to him to take over leadership of Berk when his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) can no longer do this.  This subject matter may matter little to the youngest audience members, but does offer some valuable life lessons to the more mature youngsters and gives parents some matters to discuss with their children afterward. I mean that in good way, though. There are no awkward scenes that parents will have to address with their kids. This film is suitable for children of all ages.

There is one element of the story that does bother me a tad. I wish I could further elaborate here, but it involves a completely unexpected revelation in the story.  I will say that this emotionally heavy moment gets glossed over a bit.  Everything works out a little too perfectly in the film and I cannot buy that at all. I know the film is geared mainly toward younger audiences, but this sequence plays out somewhat unrealistically and all is too easily forgiven.  I seriously feel that this development required more emotional, dramatic range, but the filmmakers chose a simpler route instead.

The filmmakers behind this gorgeous looking animated movie do deserve high praise, however. The outstanding talent in charge of animation, sound and 3D effects deserve a standing ovation for making How to Train Your Dragon 2 an astounding cinematic experience. This is definitely a film I’d recommend people watch in 3D in the best theater available. Both children and adults will marvel at the breathtaking visuals during the flight and fighting scenes. If one has a 3D television at home, this will probably be an essential 3D Blu-ray to add to the collection.  It’s pretty funny that, as soon as I complain about the 3D effects in a few recent films, two movies (this one and Edge of Tomorrow) get released with impressive visuals and have me praising the use of the format.  With a solid script, impressive visuals and a superb cast, this movie offers a complete cinematic experience.

Reprising their roles with much zeal and heart, Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig return and once again offer exceptional voice work.  This sequel also features new additions Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, and Djimon Hounsou who all perform wonderfully. I must especially applaud Hounsou who delivers a particularly menacing and frightening performance as the villain Drago.

Hopefully, the young kids won’t get too terribly frightened with him because this is a wonderful film that has so much to offer them and their families. It should go without saying at this point that this sequel succeeds where others have failed. Fans of the first film should not hesitate and put your money on this winner because this franchise deserves it and because I’d love to see at least one more installment. I must encourage those who haven’t seen the first movie to rent it as soon as possible and go see the sequel soon afterward. DreamWorks Animation has an extraordinary franchise that rivals the work of Disney and Pixar.





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