In 2010, DreamWorks approached the rarified air of Pixar-level animation with How to Train Your Dragon, one of DreamWorks’ few family-friendly offerings that didn’t suffer from an overload of pop culture references. Pixar has proven itself fallible in the ensuing years, but the DreamWorks franchise hasn’t lost any of its fire in How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Writer-director Dean DeBlois mostly sticks to the formula of the first film, which he also happened to pen. Jay Baruchel (This Is the End) returns as the voice of nebbishy Hiccup, our reluctant hero living in the shadow of his mega-manly dad (Gerard Butler, Olympus Has Fallen). Taking place five years after Hiccup has taught the hardscrabble folks of Berk about the lovable side of dragons, Dragon 2 takes off when our protagonist, his girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, Cesar Chavez) and his dutiful monster Toothless stumble across a power-hungry villain (Djimon Hounsou, Push) building a dragon army. Hiccup finds surprising help from a mysterious dragon-rescuer (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine) with a thing for dramatic entrances.
So much of the movie is impressive — sumptuous visuals, a rousing music score, a surprisingly poignant storyline — that you can forgive the few disappointing decisions that make it more conventional than its forebearer.
Unlike the first Dragon, there is a bad guy this time, as well as a sprawling assemblage of characters seemingly made for merchandising. So what? Most of How to Train Your Dragon 2 soars.