"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is a victim of its own success. No matter how strong the animation, story and voice performances, there's no way the sequel was going to soar above the original. The first "Dragon" was a rich tapestry woven from threads of father-son relationships, honor, tolerance and friendship told against dazzling 3-D backgrounds.
That doesn't stop the sequel from trying to live up to — or attempt to surpass — its predecessor. The problem is that because all of the film elements in the original were so strong, the only option left for part two was to go bigger with the story. And, while bigger is not always better, it does make "Dragon 2" a treat but in a very different way.
"Dragon 2" picks up with Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon, Toothless, living a happy life now that the other members of his isolated Norse community have accepted dragons as pets. This harmony is disrupted during one of Hiccup's many excursions to chart the unknown world when he runs into a crew rounding up dragons for an impending war.
Hiccup's efforts to stop the conflict bring him together with a long-lost person from his past and a ruthless warrior.
Director Dean DeBlois again has created a beautiful computer-generated world from the tiniest details in the small village to the massiveness of a myriad of dragons. The creative palette grows even bigger with the addition of an ice element used to create crystal-like cathedrals. The visuals are so compelling that the 3-D effect isn't necessary.
Where the film loses a little ground is in its story. What made the original film so compelling was its coming-of-age tale for both the young Viking and the dragon. It was enjoyable to watch as they learned to trust each other and work together for a common good. There are elements of that relationship in "Dragon 2," but it's mixed in with other story lines about loss and forgiveness, taking on responsibilities and dealing with world-changing tragedies. Any one of these plot threads would have been enough. Having all of them tangles the tale.
To go with these larger themes, DeBlois has cranked up the world to such a degree that the central figures of Hiccup and Toothless are at times fighting for attention. This is particularly noticeable in scenes where the pair find themselves in a dragon sanctuary run by the mysterious person from Hiccup's life.
DeBlois slows the film with a musical number that seems as appropriate as fingernail polish on a dragon.
Had this not been a sequel, these elements wouldn't have been that noticeable. But, in comparison to the beautiful original offering, they chip away at the quality. The good news is that because "Dragon 2" has to live up to such a beautiful first film, the sequel — even with its flaws — is full of enough fun and action to entertain youngsters and has enough emotional moments to hold the attention of adults.
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" rated PG. Stars Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Gerard Butler. Directed by Dean DeBlois. Running time: 101 minutes. Grade: B
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com. TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.