A good sequel is like riding a dragon. It requires balance, careful handling, and a bit of fearlessness to pull it off without getting burned (at the box office). How to Train Your Dragon 2, the latest animated feature from DreamWorks, fumbles a bit awkwardly at the beginning, but hits its stride and soars high by the end.
The film opens by showing us the progress the island village of Berk has made after accepting dragons into their midst, thanks to the efforts of Toothless and Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel). He and Astrid (America Ferrara) are now in their early 20s.
After discovering a mysterious abandoned island, Hiccup and the rest of the gang are thrown into a new adventure, battling against poachers led by dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harrington) under orders from the sinister Drago (Djimon Hounsou). New characters join the mix, including the long-lost Valka (Cate Blanchett), who teaches both Hiccup and the audience more about dragons and the importance of wildlife preservation.
The moral is sometimes heavy-handed, but never so much as to drag down the action. And action there is.
Like the characters, the film grew up as well. Darker themes and surprising twists make the second half of the film an emotional rollercoaster.
When it comes to making you feel, HTYD2 doesn't hold back its punches.