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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a sequel to both 2010's How to Train Your Dragon and the popular Cartoon Network series. Like its big-screen predecessor, this is an epic 3-D adventure with dazzling visuals and gripping action sequences that will appeal to even older kids and teens. Very young fans may be upset by a significant character's death, the alpha-possession of the Berk dragons, the battles between the different groups of dragons, and several close calls for the story's protagonists. Expect more romance in this installment; it takes place five years after the first movie, which means the previously young-teen characters are now all around the marriageable age of 20 -- so it's no surprise there are a few suggestive jokes, especially with the addition of a hunky rogue. But thanks to its strong female characters, touching parent-child relationships, and positive messages about the bond between people and their animal companions, this is must-see for fans of the original and the show.
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What's the story?
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 takes place five years after the events of How to Train Your Dragon: The citizens of the island of Berk fully accept, keep, and train dragons; Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his peers are now adults rather than teens (he's 20); and he and Astrid (America Ferrera) are engaged to be married. One day, while exploring new territories, Hiccup and his dragon bestie, Toothless, and Astrid and her dragon, Stormfly, discover both a fort covered in ice and, later, a dragon hunter named Eret (Kit Harington), who accuses them of being the "dragon rider" who's letting his dragon captives go. Hiccup and Astrid get away but soon discover that Eret's maniacal boss, Drago (Djimon Hounsou), plans to declare war on Berk and steal all of the island's dragons. Meanwhile, Hiccup makes an even bigger discovery: The "dragon rider" is actually none other than his presumed-dead mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), now a recluse who lives with dragons who are all commanded by a protective alpha. Against all odds, Hiccup and his crew must stand against Drago's army and hope their dragons can resist the pull of the bloodthirsty alpha dragon under the warmonger's control.
Is it any good?
It's rare to love a sequel as much as the original, but the filmmakers behind How to Train Your Dragon took their time and breathed magical fire into this follow-up. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is sure to please teens and adults as much as single-digit-aged fans. The multi-layered plot is rather sophisticated and has an almost Game of Thrones-lite sensibility (a comparison made even more obvious by the notable addition of Harington to the cast): No one is safe (even well-loved characters face danger and death); there's a massive David-and-Goliath fight sequence that very much echoes a trial by combat scenario, with the winner taking all of the dragons to his side; and the women are just as caught up in the high-stakes action as the men. Of course, the edgier themes and violence are still family friendly, but the movie does have an older target audience than pre-K-friendly animated films like Frozen or Ice Age.
Everything that made the first film so great -- fabulous use of 3-D-, gorgeous visuals, strong parent-child dynamics, romance, and humor -- are all alive and well in the sequel, as is the touching addition of a mother-son subplot and an actual villain in the form of Drago (a scary-sounding Hounsou). There's a lot going on, but it's remarkably compelling and emotional, as well as funny and a blast to watch. Hiccup may have been the voice of reason in the first movie, but in the second he's the one who needs to learn a thing or two; he doesn't have it all figured out, and that makes him even more endearing. There's already a third movie in the works, and now it seems likely that director Dean DeBlois can make it stellar enough to join the ranks of Toy Story and Shrek as unforgettable animated franchises.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about sequels -- and how hard it is for follow-up films to be as good as the originals. Do you think How to Train Your Dragon 2 does the job? What are some other sequels that lived up to the first film's legacy?
Hiccup has a complicated relationship with each of his parents. How does this movie explore parent-adult child relationships?
How are romantic relationships depicted in the film? How do Hiccup and Astrid compare to other couples in animated films?
Are the female characters in this movie role models? Why? How do they compare to girls and women in other kids' movies (both animated and live action)?
- In theaters: June 13, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: November 11, 2014
- Cast: Jay Baruchel, Kristen Wiig, America Ferrera
- Director: Dean DeBlois
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: adventure action and some mild rude humor
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
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