by Aaron Rittmaster

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Friday 5, I was at the same time excited and nervous about seeing How to Train Your Dragon 2. The original HTTYD is a family favorite – we all love it. But was there really more story to tell? One of the things that made HTTYD such a good movie was that it did a great job of telling a story with a strong beginning, middle, and end – it tied up all of the loose ends. And we already got to see what life in Berk was like after HTTYD in a couple of straigh-to-video shorts and a “Riders of Berk” television series. Where could it go from there?

Within the first five minutes of HTTYD2, I knew that I had nothing to be worried about. The movie is stunningly beautiful visually. I had forgotten that one of the things I liked about HTTYD was that it was actually worth spending the money to see in 3D. We saw HTTYD2 in 3D, simply because it was the showtime that worked best for us. But I’m extremely pleased that it worked out that way. DreamWorks Animation made a 3D film that retained the vividness of color that’s often lost in 3D conversion and, as in HTTYD, made excellent use of the depth of field 3D provides. It’s well worth seeing this one in 3D. (Possible mild spoilers after the jump)

The movie begins pretty much where the original (and the direct-to-video shorts) left off. Berk has been transformed from an isolated village under siege to fearsome dragons to an idyllic town where the making of dragon tack and harness has replaced the forging of battle axes and building of trebuchets. We are also introduced to the new film’s central conflict right up front – Stoick is ready to pass on the reigns of leadership to Hiccup, now that Hiccup has proven himself a leader. But Hiccup has no patience for mundane matters of state. He is a dragon master – he prefers to soar with Toothless, exploring the wider world from which Berk had been isolated for so long.

I won’t go into the plot details here – it’s worth going to see those for yourself. But suffice to say that writer/director Dean DeBlois and co-writer Cressida Cowell have plenty more story to tell about the people of Berk, and their young leader Hiccup (which is a good thing, since HTTYD 3 is already set for a Summer 2016 release). This installment introduces us to new characters and new dragons. And my children and I agreed that, like the first film, this one tells a compelling story of the people of Berk with a well-paced plot from beginning to middle to satisfying end. My wife, while enjoying the spectacle of the film, found the story lacking. She didn’t find the interaction between Hiccup and one of the new characters to be at all believable, and it “broke” the story for her. But the kids and I were willing to go with it, and the rest of the story was strong enough to hold it together.

The sequel is much more emotionally intense – at both ends of the spectrum – than the first HTTYD was. Some of the intensity may fly over the heads of the youngest children, but there are a couple of very sad moments in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Luckily, they’re balanced with some spectacular highs as well. Ultimately, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has everything you could ask for from a summer blockbuster, whether animated or live action. It’s visually spectacular with some amazing action sequences. The characters are rich and memorable. It has emotional resonance and and a story that draws you in to root for the protagonist. My wife did complain about the predictability of the plot, but it’s ultimately a summer blockbuster action movie – it’s not supposed to be an intense mystery. It’s only June, but I think we just saw the best family movie of Summer 2014.

I give it 4/5 Popcorn Buckets
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How To Train Your Dragon 2 is rated PG by the MPAA and has a running time of 102 minutes.
Have you seen How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? What did you and your family think of it? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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