Following up on the success of its 2010 predecessor How to Train Your Dragon and Cartoon Network’s television series Dreamworks Dragons: Defenders of Berk, How to Train Your Dragon 2 proves that sequels can be just as entertaining, if not better than the original.

The film begins five years after the events of the first film, in which Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, his fearsome Night Fury dragon, showed the island village of Berk that humans could coexist peacefully with dragons. Once isolated and dragon-fearing, Berk now caters to every dragon’s needs, including hosting friendly races to collect sheep. Hiccup, now a strapping young man of twenty, is as much an explorer as he is an inventor – he and Toothless soar miles across the ocean, discovering and plotting new islands. Hiccup’s father and fearless Viking leader, Stoick (Gerard Butler) wants to make him Berk’s new chief, but Hiccup has no desire or confidence to rule the village.

On one of their trips across the sea, Hiccup and Toothless discover a fortress destroyed by ice. They also meet a trapper named Eret (voiced by Kit Harington, Jon Snow on Game of Thrones) intent on bringing a Night Fury home to the film’s embittered villain Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who is building a mysterious dragon army. Hiccup makes it his duty to find Drago and change his mind about dragons before it is too late and the army is unleashed upon Berk. During his journey to find Drago, Hiccup is captured by another dragon whisperer, one who reveals herself to be Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). For the past twenty years, Valka has been living with dragons and their Godzilla-like Alpha in an icy safe haven. Though their reunion is tentative, mother and son soon bond over shared talents in dragon riding and befriending.

Their happiness is short-lived, however; when Drago arrives at the island with an Alpha dragon of his own. In the aftermath of the attack, Hiccup must rise to the occasion and face his future as Berk’s leader.

Featuring the additional voice talents of Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Kristen Wiig, and Craig Ferguson, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a delight. The opposing dragons are more formidable than the Red Death dragon of the first film. Both Bewilderbeast Alpha dragons engulf the screen with their hulking bodies, imposing horns, and ability to breathe detrimental ice formations. Toothless is every bit as fierce and loveable as he was in the first film.

The film is also dominated by exhilarating flying sequences and an epic soundtrack composed by John Powell, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work on How to Train Your Dragon back in 2011. With vocal accompaniment by Icelandic singer Jόnsi (from the band Sigur Rόs), the music is itself a staple feature of the film, as it amplifies the joyous rides on which Toothless and Hiccup embark. I’d even go so far as to say it touches the soul.

At its core, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is about a boy (now a young man) and his dragon. It doesn’t take much to become emotionally invested in Hiccup and Toothless and their loving and loyal friendship. During one heart-wrenching scene taken right from a Disney/Pixar production, Hiccup orders Toothless away. The rejection hurts to watch, but that’s a sign of effective storytelling. That’s what we appreciate about movies – the ability to craft a good story. The sequel is seamless in that regard. It also excels in character development and continuity – early on, Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (Ferrera) leaves two braids in his hair. Those braids remain on Hiccup’s head throughout the movie, a seemingly insignificant detail that gives Hiccup a very endearing quality.

Despite some minor pitfalls, How to Train Your Dragon 2 weaves a well-crafted, nicely paced action-adventure that still packs an emotional punch. It has all the makings of another Dreamworks classic.

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