A good sequel takes the world introduced by the first movie and expands on it with new characters and locations. A great sequel does all that while carving out its own thematic territory as it simultaneously retains all the elements that made the original film successful in the first place.
A great sequel feels fresh and familiar all at the same time, which is why “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is a great sequel.
Coming along four years after the fantastic “How to Train Your Dragon” (what seems to be an eternity these days in the Hollywood franchise-building machine) “HTTYD2” takes us back to the Viking village of Berk and the unlikely friendship between a boy and his dragon.
The first “HTTYD” was all about dragons and humans going from adversaries to allies by working through some flame-broiled misunderstandings. This time around, we return to find dragons fully integrated into village life, essentially as oversized pets.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), with a little help from his sleek, black dragon Toothless, has officially made the full transition from pariah to hero to the point his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) is grooming him to become the next chief of the village.
But Hiccup is set on exploring the wider world and not interested in a leadership position. What he doesn’t realize is his exploration will lead to all kinds of unintended consequences.
On the upside, Hiccup is reunited with his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchette), while on the downside, he runs into other humans who don’t share his dragon-friendly worldview, like dragon-trapper Eret (Kit Harrington) and his big, bad boss Drago (Djimon Hounsou). And, of course, there are lots and lots of new dragons to meet along the way.
Standing at the ready is Hiccup’s rough and tumble posse voiced by the likes of Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, and America Ferrera.
While “HTTYD2” boasts plenty of laughs and dragon adorableness (it’s a good thing dragons aren’t real or every kid in America would be demanding his own Toothless), it’s not afraid to steer into some deeper waters where most family entertainment wouldn’t have the guts to tread.
The movie allows space for some legitimate emotional beats and conflicts that don’t have simplistic resolutions. This sounds like basic stuff, but it’s enough to make a Transformer’s head explode.
Writer/director Dean DeBlois (freed from co-writer/director status the first time around) hits all the right buttons to keep the movie engaging and entertaining from beginning to end. He also has some pretty stunning animation to work with as this is one of the few movies worth paying a little extra to see in 3D as soaring through the clouds and braving massive battles becomes all that more impressive.
So many times it is easy to see sequels as a cynical cash-grab simply capitalizing on the success of the first film, but “HTTYD2” is a movie that has its own story to tell, and while it will surely rake in big bucks at the box office, it has legitimate creative reasons to exist as well.
It’s probably too much to hope this trend will continue for the inevitable “How to Train Your Dragon 3,” but let’s not worry about that now. For now, let’s just climb back into the saddle with Hiccup, fly above the clouds, and enjoy the ride.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.