How To Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
102 mins; Class U; KRS Releasing Ltd

The critical and commercial success in 2010 of DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon, was clearly indicative of a film that found its way into the heart of anyone who saw it.

Like many great animated films before it – and since, of course – a sequel was inevitable. And so, here is How to Train Your Dragon 2; and the filmmakers have not dropped the (fire)ball, but created a rare instance where the sequel is as good as the original.

When we first met Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) he was a young scrawny kid, the odd one out in a community of savage Vikings as a result of his peaceful outlook on life, intellect and animal activism. As the events of HTTYD unfolded, Hiccup became something of a hero, befriending a dragon – his beloved Toothless – and forging a valuable alliance between dragon and man.

In this second instalment of the series based on the children’s books by Cressida Cowell, Hiccup is five years older and wiser, and he and his fellow residents of the island of Berk live side-by-side with dragons in idyllic peace. Venturing beyond the island’s borders, one day, Hiccup makes a couple of startling discoveries – a plot that threatens the peace between Vikings and dragons as a power- hungry dragon killer attempts to capture as many dragons as possible to use as war creatures.

The other discovery involves Valka (Cate Blanchett), a mysterious dragon rider who protects the dragons from the trappers’ evil intentions.

Writer/director Dean DeBlois returns and displays an uncanny understanding of what clicked with the audiences the first time round, as he recreates the excitement, emotion and colour that exemplified the first; yet this never feels like a re-tread of what has gone before.

By developing the story and characters further, HTTYD 2 is a coming-of-age story. It is also a tale of love, loss and responsibility as Hiccup reaches the age where he is preparing to take over leadership of the island from his father, tribal chief Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler).

He then goes against his Stoick’s wishes to try and stop the impending threat by peaceful means, while dealing with the repercussions of a touching reunion, his feelings for girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and the importance of family and community. DeBlois’s script combines the heartfelt emotions of both with aplomb, mixing in just the right amount of droll humour to avoid any mawkishness.

A perfect lesson in how to make a great sequel

Once more, the film opens with an adrenaline-fuelled, heart-in-mouth action sequence. A race is underway with Vikings and their dragons participating in an aerial form of basketball with some clueless – and mightily hilarious – colourful sheep serving as the ball. This is the first of many examples of superbly-executed action sequences that pepper the story as it unfolds, all set against a stunningly-rendered back-ground of contrasting landscapes and colours.

The palette comprises lush, moss-wrapped clifftops surrounded by swirling grey mists; bright, blue skies dotted with plump soft white clouds and oceans deep and mysterious. There is the bustling island of Berk, with its various wooden structures boasting ingenious new designs to accommodate the thriving dragon community.

And finally, there is Dragon Island, where Valka gathers all her dragons, an imposing ice structure that hides within a tropical oasis that shelters dragons of every age, size, shape and colour imaginable.

Jay Baruchel returns to his voice role as Hiccup, once more bringing the dorky, witty, and heroic character to life with depth and humour. He adds just the right amount of wisdom to go with the negligible facial hair on his chin that provides the physical evidence that he is slightly older.

Blanchett is a valued addition to the voice cast, pitching her voice an octave lower to add a mysterious aura to Valka, and adding much emotional resonance to her scenes with Hiccup.

Many other favourites return, including blacksmith Gobber (Craig Ferguson) and Hiccup’s myriad friends Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and twins Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) and Tuffnut (T.J. Miller).

There is engaging storytelling, heart-pumping adventure, three-dimensional characters, warm sentiment and entertaining humour, and a refusal to fall back on the tried and tested – in short, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a perfect lesson in how to make a great sequel.