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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.