What a difference five years makes! In the opening scene of How to Train Your Dragon 2 we find a few familiar faces blazing through the sky in an exhilarating dragon race, and a lot of big changes in the land of Berk. As the dragon racers fly by, the audience is introduced to additions like an all-you-can eat feeding station, an aqueduct for putting out fires quickly, and a dragon armory perfect for tooth replacement or making dragon helmets. Brighter, bolder, and buzzing with life, Berk seems to have adapted well to a dragon friendly lifestyle.
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown too. He is a little older, a little savvier, and somehow has a greater sense of adventure than before. (Plus, he's made some new toys that are just plain COOL.) While the rest of Berk is racing, Hiccup and Toothless are off discovering new territory and mapping the world.
It isn't long before Hiccup is joined by his girlfriend Astrid, (America Ferrera) and an unfriendly dragon trapper Eret Son of Eret (Kit Harrington). Rather quickly we learn that Eret is working for a formidable boss, Drago (Djimon Hounsou), a name that evokes fear even in the awesomely revered Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). Fortunately, a mysterious rider ambushed the dragon trappers and set their bounty free.
Soon Hiccup is off to confront Drago, and discovers that the Dragon rider that ruined Eret's plans is actually his presumed dead mother Valka (Cate Blanchett). All of this time, she has been freely living amongst dragons. So begins a roller coaster of a journey that unites Hiccup and his mother as they fight a deadly foe, together.
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H2TYD2 stands on its own solidly, which is difficult for most sequels to do. We get to see our favorite, lovable characters like the hilarious one-legged Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and her two smitten suitors, Toutlout ( Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) on screen again; but more importantly, we are on a brand new journey with Hiccup and Toothless as they continue to push the limits of the world they live in.
Some new favorite characters are bound to arise, like Eret son of Eret and the free-spirited Valka. For those who like bad guys, Djimon's arresting voice will make you swoon with fear over Drago and his power-hungry bullying. Not to mention the variety of dragons that seem to have exploded on screen.
Overall, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a beautiful, fun, and engaging film. However, it is not the crafty animation, exhilarating flight scenes, or bright coloring that has me most excited. It is the depth of themes that DreamWorks introduces concerning family, identity, and freedom. Then again, DreamWorks has never been afraid to address real topics. For example, in Kung Fu Panda 2, Po must come to terms with being orphaned by violence.
In H2TYD2 we find Hiccup struggling with the pressure to step into his father's hefty shoes, while Valka is made achingly aware of what choosing to dedicate her life to dragons has cost her family. Later, both mother and son are faced with choosing between living their dreams or embarking upon new ones.
Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders handle these themes artfully, never dropping the fun energy by balancing the realities of life with the inspiration of possibility. The truth is, pain is real and damaging, but growth is always possible. Not only is that a message both adults and children need, but it is nicely packaged in one exciting story.
PS: See it in 3D. The flight scenes are incredible and the glasses will hide your tears!