It's been five years since Hiccup and Toothless successfully united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk. While Astrid, Snotlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island's new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. Now, Hiccup and Toothless must unite to stand up for what they believe while recognizing that only together do they have the power to change the future of both men and dragons.
'How to Train Your Dragon' was immensely enjoyable because of its wild imagination, and the creative spirit embodied in the myriad of dragons created by the animators. A variety of dragon species provided a colorful backdrop for a touching father-son tale, and the unlikely event of a dragon named Toothless bringing them together. 'How to Train Your Dragon' is still one of my favorite animated flicks. A movie that my 3 year-old son will watch over and over. So, when I saw 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' for the first time I felt a little underwhelmed. The first film seemingly outdoes it in most quantifiable categories. The pacing of the first film is pitch-perfect, whereas its sequel meanders from time to time. However, watching 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' a second time gave me a newfound appreciation for it. While it doesn't quite measure up emotionally to the first meeting of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, there are some parts that come very close.
Toothless, the heart of the first movie, is the creation of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Sanders and DeBlois, if you remember, were the co-directors of Disney's severely underrated 'Lilo & Stitch'. Toothless takes a lot of his mannerisms, personality, and even looks from Stitch. Stitch, even though he was a marauding force of destruction, was immediately loveable. The same with Toothless. While Hiccup narrates, Toothless is the real core of the movie. Although, as with so many other animal characters in animated movies, Toothless takes on even more dog-like characteristics this time around. Something that felt unnatural, except in the case of the natural progression of animated sequels becoming more cartoonish with each iteration.
The tiny hamlet of Berk has since become a dragon haven. Hiccup has grown from a squeaky-voiced preteen into a slightly less squeaky-voiced teenager. The town, having moved on from its dragon-hating days, is now home to hundreds of dragons. The entire place has been transformed into a dragon sanctuary.
Everything about Berk appears to be idyllic. Even for Hiccup, who has solidified things with his now steady girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera), has engineered an ahead-of-its-time flying suit, and is tabbed to become the new chief when his dad, Stoick (Gerard Butler) steps down. Hiccup has grown into his own. The relationship he develops over the first movie with his father comes to fruition here. It's one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie.
The inherent friendliness and trusting qualities of dragons are turned against them. Drago (Djimon Hounsou) is the hulking mass of man who taught himself how to enslave dragons, and now he's going to use them to…well, to do what any mad man does with a huge unstoppable army. Take over the world – or as much of it as possible. Hiccup's father knows about Drago, and thinks Berk should ready itself for war. Hiccup, fresh off his victory of changing the minds of the villagers – and most importantly his father – about dragons, thinks he can talk Drago out of his world-domination plans.
The first time I saw 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' I wrote it off as a somewhat pleasing been-there-done-that sequel. However, upon second viewing there's more there to love. The dynamic between Hiccup and his father, the evolution of Hiccup's friendship with Toothless, and a surprise appearance by someone halfway through the film that changes the course of everyone's lives forever. The surprise feels trite at first, though it fuels most of the movies more emotional aspects.
Above all, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' is visually stunning. This one tops the first, if that were possible. The animators are obsessed with flying scenes this time around. At times it almost feels like you're on an extended 'How to Train Your Dragon' thrill ride at an amusement park. Even if you subtracted the complex emotional segments of the story, watching Toothless and Hiccup dip, flip, roll, and glide through the air is reason enough to be excited by their return.
As you would expect, the transfer here is flawlessly beautiful. As with the first film, 20th Century Fox has provided another demo-worthy animated presentation. The first thing you'll probably notice is the immensely detailed dragons. The animation is so specific and so perfectly defined that you can easily see individual scales, spikes, and hairs. It's far too easy to get completely lost in Stoick's vast beard. Each hair on it being completely visible, without a hint of aliasing in sight.
The colors are marvelously rendered. When Hiccup and Toothless fine the colony of dragons, the wide variety of colorful dragons swirling around is as spectacular as it is exciting. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Blu-ray that came out this year that offers as much exceptional color spectrum display as this release.
As far as artifacting goes, there's nothing to be concerned about. Aliasing never shows up. Crushing is non-existent. Shadows and black areas are sufficiently deep and inky. Like I said at the beginning of this video review, this is demo-worthy material through and through. Use it to show off your systems visual components. It'll make your setup look great.
Bolstering the demo-quality video presentation is a pumped up audio mix that offers just as much enjoyment. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix successfully offers up a tremendously immersive soundfield. From the front to the rear this mix doesn't miss a beat. Whether it's high-flying dragon battles, or an intimate talk between a father and his son, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' is satisfyingly perfect.
Up front the dialogue is always intelligible. Even Gerard Butler's heavily accented Stoick is easily heard. When the action gets cranked up and dragons start shooting fireballs, Hiccup's orders come through the center channels clearly. The side channels offer depth, as dragons glide from one edge of the screen to the other.
Explosions will no doubt shake the pictures on the walls in your media room. This is one of the most sub-woofer dependent movies of 2014. The action rarely lets up and when huge alpha dragons start battling the thunderous bass is deep and distortion free.
'How to Train Your Dragon 2' might not feel as original as the first, but that's a given. What it does here is flesh out Hiccup's relationship with his father, as all the while what Toothless means to him continues to evolve. The audio and video are stunningly perfect in every conceivable way. The stocked special features section is just gravy at this point. Simply put, this sequel is highly recommended.