How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a surprising film. Like the original, the sequel is also based on a world and characters created by Cressida Cowell. We are back in the Viking village of Berk where the good folks, led by Chief Stoick, have integrated dragons into their lives. Man and beast live in absolute harmony, with the boisterous citizens of Berk even playing a Quidditch-like game on dragons with sheep replacing the quaffle.
The first half feels frantic yet predictable with the affable, adolescent hero Hiccup facing daddy issues, lots of soaring dragons and a cocky dragon hunter threatening the peace. And then, writer-director Dean DeBlois punches us in the gut with a narrative twist that I didn’t see coming at all. And quite suddenly, the film shifts from a routine, genial romp to a story with serious emotional stakes and complexity. Here, actions have serious consequences.
This probably won’t work for very young viewers but everyone else is likely to leave How to Train Your Dragon 2 smiling. Like its predecessor, this film is also staggeringly beautiful. You could get lost in the detailing of the dragons, especially when Hiccup discovers a dragon sanctuary where creatures of all shapes and sizes live. The dragons, toplined by Hiccup’s best friend Toothless, have real personality. Together, Hiccup and Toothless travel an emotional arc the anchors the film.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 has both visual and emotional density. I’m going with three and a half stars.