Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-Hiccup and ToothlessJust when it seemed like “The LEGO Movie” was poised to sweep the 2014 animated awards category, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” swoops in to offer some competition and one of the best animated films in a decade.

Five years have passed since dragons and Vikings paired up thanks to the efforts of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless. While the rest of the inhabitants of the island of Berk are content with dragon races and other ways to incorporate dragons into their normal lives, Hiccup and Toothless, are busy exploring and mapping new territories.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2Hiccup’s father, Stoick, (Gerard Butler, “Olympus Has Fallen”), is pushing for him to become the new chief, but refreshingly Stoick doesn’t go the cliché “you’re such a disappointment” route and continually encourages Hiccup.

On one of their explorations, Hiccup, Toothless and Hiccup’s girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), encounter a dragon hunter, Eret (Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”), gathering dragons for a pending war. They quickly learn Eret is just a lackey for the real sinister force, Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to use the dragons as the enforcers of his army.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2While Stoick opts to protect Berk, Hiccup seeks out Drago in hopes of stopping a war, but his decision leads to a shocking revelation that will impact all of Berk.

Director/Screenwriter Dean DeBlois has stated he returned to the franchise provided he could craft a trilogy and citing one of his major influences, “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” the film has a more mature tone and an adventure that not every character will survive.

The darker path may be a bit too much for younger audiences so parents should make sure they’re aware how sensitive their children are before viewing.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2It’s immensely satisfying to watch a PG movie, especially a sequel, that doesn’t feel dumbed-down for the sake of a cheap buck. DeBlois respects his characters and audience too much to deliver a lackluster effort and the stakes feel appropriately increased for the second installment.

The only minor gripe is a disappointing lack of diversity, a goal that even the most mediocre modern animated films have managed to attain. With such concerted efforts to be inclusive now the norm for the genre, it’s a shame that wasn’t deemed a priority for this project. Yes, Hounsou (“Baggage Claim”) is one of the voice actors, but Drago being the one slightly ethnic character cast as the bad guy kind of underscores the problem.

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-Drago and AstridDreamWorks Animation utilized a new software for the film resulting in a significant leap forward for animated films with movement and lighting effects that’s as close to live-action as we’ve seen so far. The luxurious animation has such a lifelike quality to it that the 3D isn’t necessary.

John Powell’s score is easily my favorite at the halfway point of the year. It provides a grandiose feeling that you’re watching something truly special — a sentiment true of the entire spectacular film. However you need to rearrange your summer movie viewing schedule, make sure this is on your list.HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

Rating: 9.5 out of 10