how_to_train_your_dragon_2by Laura Davis, managing editor

It’s always a dicey proposition going to see the sequel to a movie you loved. Will you get another helping of that wonderful flavor you remember, or a steaming bowl of disappointment? I honestly wasn’t sure which to expect when I went to see the preview of How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first movie was so sweet and adorable and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. As we all know from the trailers, the second film introduces Hiccup’s mother and a new, super-evil villain. It would have been really easy for the film to jump the shark (dragon?) in an attempt to make an action-packed sequel, but I’m relieved and pleased to say that the folks at Dreamworks did a fantastic job of expanding the story and world of How to Train Your Dragon in a way that felt very natural.

One mild note of caution: where the first film was quite appropriate for all ages, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a little darker and more intense, and probably not appropriate for very young children. Personally, I wouldn’t take a child under age 8 to see it; your mileage may vary.

The visuals were, overall, stunning. In the first few seconds of the film, I was actually confused as the view skimmed along the surface of the ocean; it took me a moment to realize I was not looking at real water on film. The scenery, the dragons, the flight scenes: all gorgeous. One visual element bothered me throughout the film, though. The villain, Drago Blodvist, looked like he didn’t belong in the same film as everyone else. Obviously, the villain is intentionally represented in a way that makes the viewer uneasy. But in this case, it wasn’t just that he was big, ugly, and misshapen, as villains so often are. It was like he was so other –his colors and textures– that he didn’t even belong in that universe.

I don’t often take note of the music in a movie, but the score for How to Train Your Dragon 2 is big and bold, and made me feel like I was flying. All movie music lends to the mood of the film’s action, but this music was particularly effective and engaging. I’ll be looking for it on iTunes!

The story was not the simplistic bit of happy fluff I was expecting. It had some genuine emotional depth to it, and Hiccup’s coming of age story rings true in a way that makes an adult cringe a little. Hiccup is now 20 and is firmly entrenched in that young-adult idealism. It would have been so easy for the writers to lead Hiccup to the realization that he needed to grow up and realize that Stoick’s way was best after all, but instead, they took a harder path that makes for a more satisfying outcome.

There are still plenty of adorable moments and giggle-worthy points in this film; it’s not all heaviness and gloom. Toothless is endearing as ever, and I’ll give one tiny spoiler in saying that there are baby dragons, whose antics are well-placed to add levity where it’s needed most. In all, it’s like the series itself is coming of age along with the characters, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a more mature film. It depends less on the cute relationship between a boy and his pet, and more on deeper themes like loyalty and leadership.

With the caveat about taking small children, I highly recommend How to Train Your Dragon 2.