“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is a sequel with more story, more characters, and more dragons which will certainly satisfy its young target audiences. Although its exhilarating charm is occasionally weighted down by the more serious aspect of its standard plot while the story subsequently feels dragged sometimes, this animation feature film has enough visual goodies to entertain our eyes, and it also pulls out genuine moments of emotions from its main characters.
Four years have passed since the first big adventure of a young Viking named Hiccup(voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon friend Toothless, a.k.a. Night Fury, in the previous film, and Berk, Hiccup’s island hometown decorated with crags, has been changed quite a lot thanks to the co-existence of Vikings and dragons. Dragons, who were once Vikings’ enemies to kill, are now happily living with Vikings, and the opening scene shows an exciting match in which young Vikings are riding dragons boldly across the sky while tossing or snatching those poor sheep for making a score(Don’t worry, folks. No sheep is harmed in this scene).
Because Hiccup is no longer that nerdy boy he once was, his father Stoick(voiced by Gerard Butler), who has been Berk’s mighty and respected chief for years, decides that it is the time for Hiccup to prepare himself for succeeding him as the next leader, but our reluctant young hero is more interested in exploring the world beyond Berk with Toothless. Like the previous film, “How to Train Your Dragon” soars with awe and excitement when it is on flying mode, and we get a fun, thrilling sequence when Hiccup tries his own flying for a while using his new device.
And then he happens to come upon a surprise discovery which becomes a serious matter for not only him but also others in Berk. Through a bunch of trappers led by Eret(voiced by Kit Harrington), Hiccup learns about Drago(voiced by Djimon Hounsou), a fearsome villain who has assembled captured dragons as his army. Stoick, who once met this dangerous guy a long time ago under a very unpleasant situation, immediately prepares for battle, but Hiccup has a different thought about resolving this situation, so he goes out to search for Drago in spite of his father’s order.
But he comes across another surprise instead. He meets a mysterious figure who has been protecting dragons from Drago and his men, and this human protector turns out to be none other than Hiccup’s mother Valka(voiced by Cate Blanchett), who was thought to be lost when Hiccup was very young. Just like her son, she also recognized that dragons were not merely savage beasts, and, after many years of her life with dragons a la Jane Goodall, she is willing to show her son many unknown things about dragons, including a wondrous dragon shelter hidden inside a giant icy sculpture whose outer appearance somehow reminded me of the Fortress of Solitude in “Superman”(1978).
The middle act of the story feels meandering as it goes back and forth between its two main storylines, but it instead provides enough time and space for the most touching part in the film. When Stoick finds that his wife is alive well, it leads to a slow but warm interaction between them, and they eventually confirm to each other that their mutual feeling has remained same as before even after long years of their separation.
Of course, its third act arrives with big battle scenes as demanded when Drago is about to attack the dragon shelter as well as Berk, and this is a less interesting part compared to others. Its flying action scenes are as well-done as required with a style reminiscent of classic dogfights, but it is no more than a bigger version of what we saw from the previous film, and I duly report to you that there is not just one big dragon but two humongous dragons who have two big horns on their jaw along with many spikes on their body.
None the less, the movie still works well thanks to its good animation, its overall spirited mood, and its endearing characters. Toothless, who sometimes looks like cat or dog in its amusing behaviors, is a lovable animation creature, and the movie stays true to the enduring relationship between Hiccup and Toothless even at its weakest point. The returning supporting characters also bring considerable humor and energy to the film; Astrid(voiced by America Ferrara), Hiccup’s plucky girlfriend, is feisty as usual while actively functioning as a substantial part of the story, and I found myself amused again by Gobber(voiced by Craig Ferguson), Stoick’s good-natured sidekick who is like a jolly uncle to Hiccup. The score by John Powell, who was Oscar-nominated for his superlative work in the previous film, is effective along with the flying sequences and other action scenes in the film; I wonder again why it utilizes Celtic music style for an animation movie about Vikings, but I guess that comes with the territory when all those beefy, hairy Vikings speak English with thick Scottish accent(are they living in the North Sea area, I wonder?).
When I watched “How to Train Your Dragon” in 2010, it was a pleasant experience to freshen me up although my mind stuck with 3-star rating. Though my initial opinion is not changed a lot, that animation film is a solid animation film with lots of energy and heart, and its sequel is equally enjoyable for its engaging mix of old and new elements in spite of its, uh, hiccups. It may be a little too heavy for young audiences in some parts, but it also goes a little deeper than expected on the emotional level as convincingly presenting the eventual growth inside its two main characters, and that certainly makes us expect another adventure of Hiccup and Toothless to come.
Sidenote: I watched it in 2D yesterday, and I did not sense anything lacking in my viewing experience, but, considering that this is an animation film packed with fabulous flying scenes, the extra charge for 3D IMAX is probably not a bad idea.