Even though time has passed, the return to Berk in “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is a familiar adventure with a lot of plotlines stuffed into it, but all the action and playful dragons still get the kids to laugh. In the original “How to Train Your Dragon” movie, the teenage protagonist Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) grows up among Vikings who hunt the dragons that attack their village. But Hiccup rebels against his father, Chief Stoick (Gerard Butler), the leader of Berk, and befriends a charming dragon that he names Toothless. By the end of the movie, Hiccup convinces his father and the village that people can coexist with dragons.
Five years later, Hiccup is now 20. He is respected in the village, allowing him to skip out on traditional gatherings to explore and hang out with his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera). But after poachers try to capture their dragons, the dragon riders discover that the evil Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is building up a dragon army. We learn from a flashback that Drago wants revenge on Berk after Stoick turned him away from the village years ago, and Hiccup believes he can convince the villain to back off.
Stoick indicates early on that he wants his son to follow in his footsteps to become the next leader of Berk—even though the entire plot of the first movie is about all the good that can come out of doing the exact opposite. But just in time for the holiday this weekend, the father-son bond is strong in this one as the two come to understand each other more.
While romance amps up in the sequel, so do the jokes intended mostly for the older crowd. But for every reference that goes over kids’ heads, there’s a slapstick joke going on in the background. And there are a lot of them: the covering of the eyes during a romantic moment, heavy things crushing people, and anything involving saliva. The jokes still get laughs—adding in dragons with emotions makes every gag seem brand new. Most of the dragons are more like playful dogs than the majestic, yet fearful beasts of “Game of Thrones” and “The Hobbit.” Toothless, as expected, steals every scene he’s in. Playing fetch with a dragon just might push the creature above puppy on kids’ wishlists.
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” is shown in 3D and IMAX 3D. But forget the old-school 3D with gimmicks of anything and everything popping out at you. Dreamworks’ animation is more sophisticated than that. Flying through the air atop a dragon is a real thrill, you feel the enormity of standing in the middle of uncountable dragons, and any portrayal of elements. A supercool firesword, the time in the sky, drops in the ocean, and the constant changes in scenery all impress and step up the game for all future animation films.
Not all is perfect though. As a new addition to the voice cast, Kit Harington is just as expressive as his character Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones” (take that how you will). The soundtrack threw me off at times, and admittedly, I didn’t laugh as much for the sequel.
A lot more darkness prevails in the second movie, as Hiccup and Toothless are fighting much more than Berk’s traditions and wild dragons. They’re dealing with a lot of adversity jam-packed into 102 minutes: abandonment, betrayal, poachers, disability, dragon wars, and death. But Hiccup learns, matures, and in this Viking town, it’s okay for every tough dragon rider (and some kids) to cry.
If you’re having one of those days, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” might just catch you off guard and hit you hard. Adults will notice a hint of awkwardness from the stand-alone movie suddenly turning into a trilogy. Many life-changing events pop up in the storyline, all seemingly to set up the series finale. Kids won’t notice. They’ll get what they came for: The dragons and the laughs.