How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Review #1,045

Director:  Dean DeBlois
Cast:  Jay BaruchelKristen WiigAmerica Ferrera
Plot:  When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace.

Genre:  Animation / Action / Adventure
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Animated Feature
Runtime:  102min
Rating:  PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

“You have the heart of a chief.  And the soul of a dragon.”

Dragons are to be tamed, not slayed.  Here they are also hypnotized, and as you will see, it can be frightening to see them under the control of an evil spell.  Dean DeBlois is back in the director's hot seat for the anticipated sequel to How to Train Your Dragon (2010), one of that year's best animated features. 

It retains the joyful and playful tone of the first one, but it is less wildly exhilarating.  However, it is still a tight and energetic work that will delight the kids, and possibly, their parents.  I would compare the experience of seeing part two to taking the same rollercoaster ride the second time – it feels familiar, but maybe less thrilling.  In essence, this is a sequel that does what it should do, and no more.

The story centers on Hiccup who is now next-in-line to be the chief, and as stubborn as he is, wants to convince a madman in a faraway island to not start a war with his dragon army.  Along the way, themes of family, loyalty and sacrifice are played out, sometimes unexpectedly. 

There's a healthy mix of drama and comedy, and as far as animated films are concerned, How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the very least focuses on story and character first, with spectacle filling in later.  It is consistently funny, sometimes trying too hard like, for example, the recurring trope involving a woman having a desperate crush on a guy with muscles.

Toothless, the dragon everyone wants to see, has a good amount of screen time, though in part two, it is no more about taming the dragon (which in all seriousness provides the kind of drama and wonder that lifts the first installment above its sequel), but testing the dragon, or more specifically, putting the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless to the sword. 

Once again, the movie benefits from the rousing score by John Powell, who rearranges his themes to fit a slightly different mood.  If the first film offered the novelty of experiencing the feeling of discovery which Powell so wondrously conveyed through music, the score for this one provides a familiarity that powers the modest second chapter.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is lively, fun and promises a satisfactory blast at the theaters.  Whether it will secure an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature for 2014 remains an uncertainty that only the folks at Dreamworks Animation should worry about.  In any case, expect a solid opening weekend for this.

Verdict:  Less a wildly exhilarating romp that was the first installment, the sequel is modest and familiar.


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