Five years on from HTTYD’s finale, and it’s all change in the small viking village of Berk. Not only are the dragons now fully assimilated into the horn-hatted locals’ way of life (a change and span of time documented over in Cartoon Network’s TV spin-off Dragons: Riders Of Berk), but its people are older, wiser, and far more adventurous. With the dragons and Vikings now successfully transitioned from enemies to the-not-as-weird-as-it-sounds life partners, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his trusty dragon bestie Toothless are on a mission to explore the wider world at their finger/wing-tips.
With the aid of DreamWorks’ increasingly nuanced art, design and cinematography departments, the world-building on offer is the studio’s most accomplished yet – not only in the expansive new environments and the varied new dragon species, but in the subtle background details as well. Whether in the midst of a heady, Helm’s Deep-esque mega-battle or a serene, stunning sunset glide above the clouds, it’s a world not only lived in, but one you feel a part of. And as for the 3D, the topsy, turvy, stomach-lurching flying scenes boast some of the best stereoscopy since the first movie.
Of course, the world would be nothing without the characters to populate it, and again, DeBlois bravely pushes things forward. Hiccup’s just as dorkily loveable, but this time around he’s more confident and accomplished – and whether gliding through the air, bonding with girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) or reacting to some momentous emotional revelations, Baruchel brings just the right blend of warmth, vulnerability and excitability.
Cate Blanchett’s predictably moving as a Dian Fossey-like dragon-ologist forced into reconnecting with the life she’d thought lost. Her connection to Hiccup offers a dramatic payoff as moving as it is unexpected, with one scene opposite Gerard Butler’s Stoic guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
And Toothless? Well he’s as adorable as ever, and still an utter marvel in creature and character design. How To Train Your Dragon 2 feels like the moment a franchise transcends genres, shifting from family flick to fantasy epic. DreamWorks will always be compared to Pixar – and while it isn’t quite up there with the competition’s best, it’s a worthy challenger. Now that the franchise is hitting altitude, how will 2016’s trilogy closer stick the landing?
More emotional, exhilarating and expansive than the original. DreamWorks finally has a franchise to match its ambition.