DIRECTOR: Dean DeBlois

VOICE CAST: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Djimon Hounsou, America Ferreira


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

RATING: ****

BOTH glorious thrill ride and a really good sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is just so much fun.

Like the first film, this one features dazzling animation sequences and a surprisingly meaty storyline with hidden depths and excellent characterisation.

While the human characters each have their journey, Toothless the Night Fury, friend to Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, son of Stoick the Vast, steals the show.

The black dragon with the wonky tail is still mostly on the quiet side, but his expressively mobile face and feline mannerisms help to give him an endearing personality, especially in his interaction with Hiccup (Baruchel).

We return to the village of Berk, five years after these Vikings discovered dragons aren’t so bad and the whole place has gone dragon mad. It’s dragon races and dragonets living in the house and even the sheep have become used to the whole idea.

Most of Hiccup’s dragon-riding friends do not get as much camera time as the dragons themselves, but for that, catch Riders of Berk, or season two, Defenders of Berk, on tv.

Hiccup and his friends are young adults now, but he doesn’t really think of himself as capable of stepping up to the responsibility of leading the village, the way his dad wants him to.

So, the chief’s son spends much of his time exploring, as much to avoid arguing with his dad as because he is curious and loves flying. Hiccup discovers a mysterious dragon-rider and a whole world (okay, crazy Pandora- style island) of dragons he didn’t know about.

There is also a scary stealer of dragons hovering just over the horizon, and it seems Drago Bludvist (Hounsou) is not only known to Stoick the Vast (Butler) as an unreasonable madman, but this bad guy hates dragons.

Now that Hiccup and Toothless are more sure of themselves in the sky, there is no limit to what they can do and the sense of visual grandeur is epic.

The cinematography is sweeping with clever camera angles that create a feeling of realism to the thrilling flight sequences and the dragon island awash in its cool shades of blues and greens is also lush with all sorts of new dragons.

The flight sequences are breathtaking as they recreate the sense of awe Hiccup feels every time he climbs on to Toothless’s back, but it is when the action quietens down to allow the characters to interact that it works best.

The development of the Valka (Blanchett)/Stoick (Butler) storyline is short but complex, and the whole film is surprisingly dark in its exploration of themes like betrayal, death and Hiccup’s insistence that talking can solve problems fighting cannot, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Some of the twists are going to take some explaining on the part of parents, not because they are particularly complicated, but because they suggest that life is not all light and sunshine.

The sequel succeeds admirably by building on the success of the first film and in no way simply rehashing what worked the first time around. Instead of going louder and brighter with whackier wit as is the wont of so many terrible animated sequels, this sequel expands the characters’ horizons – while there is a fun upside to being able to ride dragons, that freedom comes with unforeseen consequences and hidden responsibilities, just like growing up.

If you liked How to Train Your Dragon you will like this.