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No Mere Kids Film

How to Train Your Dragon 2 wows with exceptional animation and story depth

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup has picked up a lot of new tricks in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Photo courtesy of Dreamworks Animation
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The dragons in the sequel are just a wee bit bigger than in the original. Photo courtesy of Dreamworks Animation
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Thanks to Hiccup's reunited family, the sequel packs a lot of emotion and maturity into the supposed kids film. Photo courtesy of Dreamworks Animation

The main reason that most sequels fail to satisfy is because it’s nearly impossible to replicate the originality of the first film. Audiences already know the main characters, so sequels tend to rely on the tried-and-true instead of trying something different.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t veer off on a completely new path, but its stellar animation, surprising maturity and sheer sense of fun make it one of the best sequels, animated or not, to come out in a while.

Whether the dragons are whooshing across the sky for battle or pleasure, the ability to fly along with them, especially in 3D, is akin to magic.

The hero of Dragon is once again Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), now ensconced as a respected leader of Berk after showing that dragons could be used for good instead of being viewed as enemies. His dad, Stoick (Gerard Butler), is still the chief of the Viking village, and Astrid (American Ferrara) has been upgraded from friendly rival to girlfriend.

On one of their many explorations on their dragons, Hiccup and Astrid run across dragon thieves doing the dirty work of the evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou). This sets in motion an effort to protect the dragons of Berk, one that puts Hiccup on a path to meet his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), whom he hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years.

Because riding dragons is now an established part of the Dragon world, writer/director Dean DeBlois takes every opportunity to set the action in the sky, something that never disappoints. Whether the dragons are whooshing through rock formations, battling other dragons or simply going for an easy afternoon flight, the ability to fly along with them, especially in 3D, is akin to magic — and it never gets old.

That fun is backed up by the story, one that successfully advances certain characters while also introducing interesting new ones to the mix. As in the first film, Hiccup and Astrid are shown on an even level despite Hiccup’s status as the protagonist. Astrid can more than hold her own, something she’s shown doing on multiple occasions.

But even more impressive is an extended look at the reunion between Stoick and Valka. Most animated films would gloss over a scene like that in order to get back to more action or slapstick. Instead, DeBlois treats them like a real married couple, making sure the emotion of their meeting again after so many years doesn’t get short shrift.

The film also surprises with its attention to detail. There are many times when what’s happening behind characters, like dragons constantly playing, can be as entertaining as the actual focus of a scene. Another moment in which Astrid absentmindedly braids strands of Hiccup’s hair does more to exemplify the state of their relationship than any words could ever say.

From the biggest battle to the most intimate moment, How to Train Your Dragon 2 strikes almost all the right chords. Just like all the best animated films, it’s not merely for kids.

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