Sequels are tricky things when it comes to animated films. They have to contain the same charm, lovable characters, and the same solid foundation while also furthering the storytelling, bringing in new characters, and taking courageous risks. How to Train Your Dragon 2 does this, and it does it so well that it takes the series to a new height, literally, but also raising the bar for what an animated sequel should be like.

We pick up 4 years after the first film, which is also in real years considering the first film was released in 2010, and the island of Berk has grown and flourished with the inclusion of dragons. Every citizen has a dragon; there are races, they help out, and they are used to travel to new and uncharted lands. Hiccup is spearheading this effort, tracking where dragons are located while also trying to discover another dragon of the same breed as Toothless. He soon discovers (spoilers from the trailer ahead) that his mother is actually alive, and she is helping raise and care for dragons in the wild while also stymying the efforts of dragon-trappers led by the evil Drago.

The story is a lot more in depth than the first film, containing some more serious elements that mirror real-world situations (such as the poaching of wild animals). It is a good way to involve children at a young age who might find the actual idea too frightening. The writing is pretty great for the most part; the characters all have their shining moments, we get to learn more about the backstory of Stoick (Hiccups father), and we also see characters who have matured since the first film. However, the writing for Hiccup’s mother, whose name is Valka, was not that strong. Having been in the jungle for a while raising dragons without any other humans might make someone crazy, but to have her essentially be looked at like someone who was actually raised in the wild is a little bit jarring and unnecessary.

The villain, Drago, is just your run-of-the-mill villain whose goal is that of most every villain: to take over the world. It would have been nice to have him have be a little more original, but it does not take away anything from the final product. The movie also takes risks. I will not say what risks these are because it is a major part of the movie, but it certainly is a bold move in my opinion.

The entire cast from the first film reprise their roles. The dialogue is a lot meatier and seems more directly written for the characters as opposed to the first film. We also have the introduction of Cate Blanchett as Valka, Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington as Eret, and Djimon Hounsou as Drago. They all do great jobs at joining the already strong cast, but like I previously mentioned, some of the dialogue of Valka seems out of place.

This sequel also packs more of an emotional punch than the first film. There is a lot more to do with the past, loss, and maturing that is sure to make any tough-skinned dragon lover to feel a little. While it is not overwhelming, it uses it at just the right times to make you feel the right emotion without it feeling forced or unnecessary.

The dragons and all of the animation are all top-notch. Vastly surpassing the animation of the first film, the sequel takes things to a whole other level. The intricate details on the dragons, the new and gigantic alphas, the beautiful rendering of clouds, and even the facial hair are all beautifully drawn. It is a gorgeous film to watch. The action sequences in the latter part of the film are some exhilarating pieces of animation, resulting in some jaw-dropping moments.

In the end, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is one of the most fun adventures you’ll have all year at the movies. The characters are more lovable than ever, the animation is some of the best of the year (if not of the decade so far), and it has some great action sequences. How to Train Your Dragon 2 has set the bar on how to make an animated sequel, go check it out if you haven’t already.

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