Movie Review: ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ Soars to Instant Classic Heights

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HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 | 102 min. | Rated PG | Director: Dean DeBlois | Stars: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and Djimon Hounsou

Rating: 4/4

Just when you thought Hiccup successfully trained his dragon, nope. There’s more to do, and thank God for that. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is darker, more mature than the original, yet just as endearing and fun.

Taking place five years after the first film, the second installment sees the island of Berk as a stead that is fully integrated with dragons. The Vikings have achieved a sense of peace that has long since been absent, until Drago (Djimon Hounsou) comes in.

A merciless warrior who also knows how to control dragons, Drago is forming an indestructible dragon army, with the conquering of Berk on his to-do list. That’s where Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), his dragon Toothless and posse intervene.

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The 2010 original felt like it arrived out of nowhere. It even passed up some recent Pixar films in terms of quality and narrative. This sequel goes even further in all aspects, building upon an already magnificent world.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 could have played it safe by merely repeating the original’s formula, something that the self-aware 22 JUMP STREET pokes fun at itself for. Instead, the writers of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 take a more daring route by injecting this children’s movie with more adult, relatable themes, such as family loss and others that involve going into spoiler territory. Trust me, this film gets dark, though there’s still plenty of heart and fun to be had.

When it comes to 3D, I usually turn the other way. Who wants to pay the extra bucks to wear those uncomfortable glasses and see a flick that’s easier to focus on in 2D? Only a handful of films in the past have done 3D right, and the original film was among those select few. The sequel soars above and beyond by making the animated adventure a completely immersive experience. Flight scenes in particular really put you in Hiccup’s shoes as he and Toothless fly across the sky. If you pass on the 3D, you miss out on the full measure of artistry put into making HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 such a great movie.

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Backing up the stunning use of 3D is the incredible production design, a ridiculous-sounding comment to make about an animated feature. Nonetheless, this film fits in the same class as THE LORD OF THE RINGS, AVATAR and STAR WARS as a quintessential example of how to build a striking world. The environments are picturesque, the costumes are spectacular and the dragons themselves continue to impress with their detailed designs.

The script proves to be no slouch either. Each character returns to the sequel with impressive depth. Hiccup’s progress as a character and his faith in people and their ability to change is a great message for children to take with them as they exit the theater. Hiccup’s relationship with his father, Stoick (voiced with continued greatness by Gerard Butler) builds a wonderful dynamic, making the film all the more moving and involving.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is a gleaming exemplar of what both family and inspired movies are capable of. From the characters, to the drama, to the action and comedy, this film does what all sequels should do by stepping up their game and winning audience’s hearts.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 is playing in theaters today.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.