By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The first one was respectable. The second is delectable.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 improves on an already admirable original. That animated treat flew our way in 2010, when it received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature and entertained youngsters to the tune of boffo national and worldwide box office.
This sequel is another animated action-adventure fantasy set in the 18th century on the Viking-inhabited Norse Isle of Berk, where the villagers have always lived in fear of dragons and therefore valued highly the slaying of the fearsome flying, fire-breathing creatures.
This second chapter in the trilogy, also loosely based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, is set five years after the events of the first offering, when Hiccup the human and Toothless the dragon helped bring peace between the dragons and the Vikings.
Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler return as the voices of scrawny Hiccup and his gruff dad, Stoick the Vast, as do voice cast members America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, TJ Miller, and Christoper Mintz-Plasse.
Hiccup, now next in line to be the chief of Berk, and his friends have grown into what would come to be called young adults.
Hiccup and Toothless, seemingly inseparable now, keep busy exploring new territories and discover an ice cave, home to hundreds of wild dragons and a couple of mysterious dragon riders.
And Hiccup is reunited with his long-lost, presumed-dead mother, Valka, voiced by Cate Blanchett.
But because a dragon hunter (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) has plans to build a dragon army in hopes of taking over the world, Hiccup and Toothless are dragged back into battle.
Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the original, flies solo this outing as writer-director. His screenplay is both playful and joyful, but he leans on the action-oriented flying sequences -– although they are exhilarating if not astonishing –- more than he needs to. Consequently, we're grateful whenever he lets the characters come in for a landing and communicate with each other.
Like the first installment, the sequel is straight-ahead sincere rather than wiseacre satirical.
However, whereas the centerpiece of the original adventure was the touching friendship between Hiccup and Toothless, the followup delves a bit deeper into nuclear-family dynamics and stands alone: it's neither a pure rehash of its predecessor nor merely a bridge to an adventure to come.
As far as animation goes, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has the arena pretty much to itself this summer. And this well-made sequel has its own story to tell and represents a substantive improvement over its predecessor, which bodes well for the franchise. May it soar!
So we'll slay 3 stars out of 4 for a high-tech toon that flies higher and breathes more dramatic and emotional fire than the original. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an object lesson in How to Make a Sequel...Better.
for more features.