It’s not an easy proposition to make a sequel to one of a studio’s defining animated hits. In fact, How To Train Your Dragon is in many respects the only Dreamworks Animation movie that justifiably compares to their original CG breakout hit, Shrek. It may not have had much to do with its source novel (something it has in common with Shrek), but How To Train Your Dragon is nonetheless easily one of the most widely celebrated CG movies of recent years, for good reason! It perfectly balances emotional impact, light-hearted humour, family-friendly values, and plenty of visually stunning action and animation.

Even if it’s not an easy proposition however, Dreamworks Animation has risen to the task. How To Train Your Dragon 2 equals, and in some cases even exceeds, its predecessor! It very effectively expands upon the foundation of its original with a bigger and more dramatic follow-up, one that feels undeniably darker in tone, but also maintains the loveable character personalities and awe-inspiring world as the first movie.

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For viewers of all ages, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is an easy contender for one of Summer 2014’s best movies yet, and will likely stand as one of the best movies of 2014 overall. Don’t miss it!

CHARACTERS

The original How To Train Your Dragon’s cast has been aged almost in real time, being teenagers in the first movie, but now growing into young adults. Their development from the first movie is also kept very much intact, particularly in regards to lead protagonist, Hiccup, whose bond with his pet dragon, one-of-a-kind Night Fury, Toothless, remains a driving force in the sequel.

More confident and more assured, Hiccup is embracing his sense of adventure with Toothless when events pick up in the second movie, charting new lands and even discovering new species of dragons. Toothless meanwhile has become an even more steadfast companion, still completely mute, but effectively demonstrating his thoughts and emotions for even young audiences with the same superb, compelling animation that he displayed in the first movie.

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This is a big part of the reason why Hiccup and Toothless are such amazing characters; They don’t necessarily need to talk. Like the best of Pixar’s work, How To Train Your Dragon 2’s character animation isn’t just for looks. It helps to flesh out characters in ways that words can’t adequately demonstrate. Viewers will never doubt the companionship of Hiccup and Toothless, because it’s palpable throughout every scene they share together, even if only Hiccup is able to speak.

Of course, the supporting cast has matured just as effectively as Hiccup. Hiccup’s sweetheart, Astrid has become a strong group leader in her own right, and a superb companion to Hiccup both in battle and just around the island of Berk. Fellow youthful Vikings, Fishlegs and Snotlout remain a good comedic double act as well, both humourously vying for the affection of Ruffnut, who is still a hilarious foil to her bumbling twin brother, Tuffnut. The group shares a bit less screentime with Hiccup in this follow-up, but it’s great to see that they’ve all only gotten better with age.

For most of the movie however, Hiccup is actually interacting with his long-lost mother, Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett. Blanchett’s willowy tone lends itself perfectly to Hiccup’s free-spirited, dragon-loving mother, who has lived in seclusion trying to save dragons from slaughter by the Vikings, oblivious to Hiccup and his crew helping to create peace between Vikings and dragons on Berk following the events of the first movie. Valka is a very cool character in her own right too, being as fierce and strong as she is loving and pure, and this helps to make her inevitable reunion with Hiccup’s father, Stoick all the more heartwarming and emotional.

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Speaking of Stoick, now that his opinion about his son has changed following the first movie, he’s attempting to groom Hiccup to eventually become his successor as Berk’s chief, with the assistance of returning bumbling blacksmith, Gobber. The device of Hiccup’s parents is used very effectively, with Stoick pulling Hiccup towards the people and Valka pulling him towards his love of dragons, creating an interesting internal battle that truly signals Hiccup’s passage to adulthood; Deciding the man he wants to become, and who he should serve first and foremost.

Naturally, there is a villain to help push Hiccup’s conflict along as well, that being Drago Bludvist, voiced by Djimon Hounsou. Bludvist is a pretty simple megalomaniac who commands a dragon army and wants to conquer the world, and he feels like a bit of a stock villain in the end unfortunately. Still, at least he’s very menacing and terrifying, especially for a kid-friendly animated flick, and audiences will enjoy watching him.

It’s great to see the new voice actors mesh as well as they do with the returning cast as well. Jay Baruchel is loveable and inspiring as ever voicing Hiccup, while America Ferrera continues to impress as Astrid, rounded out by the comic relief of Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller as Snotlout, Fishlegs, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, respectively. Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson also once again have wonderful chemistry as Stoick and Gobber respectively, with Ferguson always around to keep proceedings light and effectively balance out Stoick’s uncompromising harshness.

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Even with much of the cast and setting familiar, the voice actors and character writing combine to make a movie that feels undeniably edgier. Nonetheless, kids will still find plenty of humour and whimsy to enjoy, and adults will continue to appreciate the surprising emotional impact that the sequel often delivers throughout its runtime, continuing to set up more promising stories for this cast to come in further sequels.

PLOT

How To Train Your Dragon 2’s story is pretty simple on paper. Hiccup and Toothless accidentally discover a villain preparing a dangerous campaign of world conquest, and come into contact with Hiccup’s lost mother. Go.

As simple a pitch as it is however, it’s the finer details and stellar moments with the ensemble cast that really elevate How To Train Your Dragon 2 as a sequel. Like the original, it’s not afraid to shy away from actions having consequences, and threats not being idle. Deeper character conflicts and shocking dramatic moments still abound in the second movie’s story, even if it’s still cleverly masked by colourful animation and high adventure for less discerning child audiences.

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Like its predecessor, this sequel is ultimately a testament to brilliant character writing and finely-honed details. The relationships at play remain front and center, whether between Hiccup and his parents, Hiccup and Toothless, Hiccup and Astrid, or, naturally, the supporting cast, including Stoick and Gobber, Fishlegs, Snotlout and Ruffnut, and Stoick and Valka. Even in an animated, fantasy-themed family flick, the relationships feel very real and grounded, and this is what makes the story work as well as it does.

Of course, it’s difficult to talk much about the story without spoiling it. Rest assured however that it effortlessly compares to the plot of the original, continuing to effectively push the series forward by doing exactly what a great sequel should; Building on what already took place in the previous movie, and continuing to move toward even bigger and better things with its cast and world.

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Spoiler
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is very praiseworthy for its ability to tackle heavier subject matter, while still managing to be enjoyable and innocent for children. As much as Drago is a bit of a stock villain, he really comes into his own as a threat when he strains the bond of Hiccup and Toothless with his mastery over dragons, something that also leads into a manipulated Toothless killing off Stoick very abruptly and shockingly.

The death of Stoick completely changes the tone of the franchise, and is handled incredibly well, no doubt continuing to be an influence on the already-confirmed How To Train Your Dragon 3. His father’s death motivates Hiccup to find his place in the world, defeat the villain, and truly realize his potential as his father’s successor. It’s still a kid-friendly flick, and you can no doubt see this ending coming once the groundwork is laid for it, but it’s wonderful to see that How To Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t simply brush tragedy under the rug for a Hollywood ending, just as its predecessor wasn’t afraid to do either with Hiccup losing his foot.

DIRECTION

Dean DeBlois returns to write and direct How To Train Your Dragon 2, and just like the first movie, he does an incredible job realizing a movie that feels simultaneously innocent and deep.

DeBlois’s courage with aging and pushing his characters to new places in the sequel also immediately makes it compelling and interesting. At the same time however, DeBlois doesn’t betray the original personalities as established in the first movie for want of simply wanting to force maturity. Hiccup is still a big-dreaming inventor for example, which lends along with his young adult years to his stubborn sense of adventure, and gives him an arsenal of wicked gadgets to wield in battle this time, including an awesome self-flaming sword!

DeBlois is just as good at putting together the fast-paced dragon sequences as he is the heartfelt character moments as well. Like the first movie, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is packed with high-flying thrills that effectively sell the uplifting sensation of being a flying dragon. Likewise, every battle sequence feels harrowing and intense, even if the actual violence is still kept to a minimum so as not to upset young children.

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Plain and simply, How To Train Your Dragon 2 continues to be an outstandingly polished CG flick that just has everything. It’s emotionally impactful, beautiful, fun, amusing, and memorable, all at the same time. The original How To Train Your Dragon’s stellar final product already felt like lightning in a bottle, but DeBlois has effectively made this lightning strike twice for Dreamworks Animation!

MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK

John Powell returns to compose the soundtrack of How To Train Your Dragon 2, and like the original, it’s a winner! The swells of uplifting orchestra continue to be a delight during the many happy scenes throughout the movie, but the increased melancholy scoring many other character moments also effectively sells that this is a more dramatic and grown-up sequel.

Frankly, some of the best music pieces of the bunch are the ones that play during the sadder scenes. I don’t want to spoil these scenes obviously, but their complementing music pieces will surely push even hardened moviegoers over the edge when it comes to being misty-eyed.

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Naturally though, it’s the roars of dragons and rush of the winds and skies that audiences will remember most. This is also one of the key reasons to catch How To Train Your Dragon 2 in an actual movie theatre, the way it’s meant to be seen. It’s the best way to really immerse yourself in the adventure, and the soundtrack sees to it that viewers will be along for every step of the ride!

VISUAL EFFECTS

How To Train Your Dragon already boasted excellent animation, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 somehow pushes the visuals even further! The more dangerous landscapes really allow the animators to flex their muscle in terms of rendering fog, ice, raging waters and whatever else have you, and the dragon designs have also been touched up with added details in their hides and animations. The new and super-massive Alpha Dragons look especially amazing, being enormous beasts that are still lovingly rendered with every last scale and feeler intact.

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Once again, the effects are best enjoyed during the many scenes where characters zip, dive and weave along in mid-air on their dragons. Given that Vikings and dragons now live in harmony in the sequel, you’ll get many more of these sequences as well, giving How To Train Your Dragon 2 a heightened sense of carefree adventure in contrast to its predecessor.

Even merely viewed in 2D, the movie simply looks stunning, among the best visually-realized movies that Dreamworks Animation has delivered to date! Like the first movie however, this is a movie that you’ll really want to watch in 3D. I especially enjoyed the 3D cut thanks to the highly increased immersion it offers during the flying scenes and battle scenes. Dirt and ice is constantly kicked up around the audience, just as fog and clouds appear to envelop the theatre, with the rush of wind during falls and soars making viewers watching the 3D version all the more feel like they’re actually flying on a dragon!

Believe me, the 3D version of the movie is worth every extra dollar, and kids especially will get a huge kick out of how much it brings the movie to life!

THE VERDICT

How To Train Your Dragon 2 stands with Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2 as one of the best CG movie sequels of all time. The original was already fantastic, and it’s great to see the sequel measure up to it in every way.

If you have kids to bring along, they’ll find loads of colourful visuals and fun adventure to enjoy. Even if you’re an adult reading into the movie beyond face value however, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is as intelligent as it is colourful. It’s grown up with its predecessor’s audience, perfectly balancing what to keep familiar, and what to boldly push into new territory.

All in all, it’s a textbook example of how to do a sequel to an excellent movie right. Everything leads into a satisfying conclusion that isn’t afraid to have lasting consequences, while still leaving plenty of room for more follow-ups in this rich and highly enjoyable world.

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It’s a good thing too, because How To Train Your Dragon 3 has already been set for release on June 9th, 2017. That day now can’t come fast enough!

How To Train Your Dragon 2 Review
One of the best movies yet for 2014, and one of the best CG movie sequels ever made, How To Train Your Dragon 2 soars as a new champion offering for Dreamworks Animation!
CHARACTERS95%
PLOT95%
DIRECTION95%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK90%
VISUAL EFFECTS100%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Outstanding story
  • Balances fun and drama
  • Amazing visuals and 3D
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Drago's backstory is weak
97%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (8 Votes)
83%

About The Author

Senior Editor

Brent Botsford has reviewed video games, movies and television for over a decade. He is also a Twitch Affiliate at twitch.tv/venuszen , presenting new, retro and independent games as the, "Sixth-Handsomest Gamer on the Internet', VenusZen.

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