How to Train Your Dragon 2 lives up to original

When the first How to Train Your Dragon film came out in 2010, it enchanted audiences with whimsical humor, beautiful animation and, above all, emotionally deep and relatable characters. A commercial smash, the film has garnered just under $500 million in gross revenue. Far from being a mere box office hit, the film was also a critical success, and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

Considering the success of the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has some incredibly high expectations to meet. Luckily for audiences worldwide, the minds at Dreamworks have exceeded those expectations, and the new film is certain to work its way into the hearts of fans both young and old.

Set five years after the original, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still the story of Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, and the complex friendship he develops with his dragon, Toothless. As the two grow up together, Hiccup must grapple with the responsibilities of adulthood, his identity as a viking, and his place in Berk. Hiccup’s father Stoick, voiced by Gerard Butler, sees his son as next in line for chief of the village, but Hiccup is uncertain of how he can follow in his father’s footsteps.

Both the original and How to Train Your Dragon 2 set themselves apart from other animated features by dealing with issues that don’t often arise in children’s narratives. Animal cruelty, death and estranged parents are all addressed in ways that are more tasteful and meaningful than many “grown up” films.

In the film, Hiccup grew up believing that his mother had been dead for twenty years. When he discovers that she has been in hiding for all that time, however, he is forced to make a difficult decision between rejection and forgiveness.

The film’s theme of parental abandonment struck a personal note with Butler, who said in a press conference that he identified heavily with this section of the film. Butler, who had been estranged from his father from 18 months until he was 16 years old, recalled a conversation he had with his mother as a child.

“I asked my mother if I would ever see my father again, and she said ‘no,’” Butler said.

Few animated films (the first being the recent ParaNorman in 2013) have openly gay characters, so it’s nice to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 join the ranks. At one point, Hiccup’s affable mentor Gobber, voiced by Craig Ferguson, says “this is why I never got married,” which is shortly followed by a reportedly ad-libbed line in which the character hints at his own homosexuality. It’s brilliant to see more acceptance on the big screen.

As serious as How to Train Your Dragon 2 can be, it never loses sight of its ultimate goal: to entertain. With so many relationships to balance and such an epic story to tell, the film could have easily lost its way. Fun dialogue, raucous action, and stunningly gorgeous images all serve to make the almost two hour run time fly by. Most importantly, the voice acting is so spectacular that the characters (with the help of some tastefully employed 3D effects) explode off the screen and come to life.

In sharp contrast to the righteous people of Berk, the films villains are dark, dangerous and, sometimes, downright scary. Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou, is a truly formidable foe, and his war cry is certain to send chills down the steeliest of spines. Audiences will certainly jump when he screams to summon forth a giant “Bewilderbeast” from the icy depths of the ocean.

A slightly more lovable villain is the roguish Eret. Many adult fans will no doubt recognize Harington from his role as John Snow in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Eret is a master dragon catcher (and sometimes pompous jerk) who works for the evil Drago. Although he starts out as a villain, he is shown the error of his ways and quickly joins up with Hiccup and the rest of Berk, proving that people can always change.

For both fans of the first film and newcomers to the series, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of the must-see movies of the summer. Though it might sound hard to believe, this is one sequel that easily manages to live up to its predecessor. In many ways, it surpasses it. With an all-star cast, an epic soundtrack and a touching story, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not simply a great animated movie – it’s a great film.